The 2024 Colorado Buffaloes are a hungry bunch. After an incredible run to the Sweet Sixteen in the 2023 NCAA Tournament, the squad craves even more success. Currently ranked sixth in the AP Poll, the Buffs look poised to quench their desire for greatness.
Despite returning nearly all of their role-players from last year, Colorado added a couple of key transfers to get themselves over the hump. One of which is Sara-Rose Smith, an Aussie guard who came to Colorado from Missouri for a taste of success in the nation’s top conference.
It can sometimes be difficult for a program that’s as tight-knit as Colorado to integrate transfers into an already stacked team. However, that’s not the case for the Buffaloes. Star point guard Jaylyn Sherrod took it upon herself to welcome the newcomers into the Buffs’ culture, living with Smith and other transfers to help show them the ropes of CU basketball.
Those efforts to integrate the transfers into the culture have seemingly worked wonders. Despite only playing in 16 games with the Buffaloes, Smith looks like she’s been hooping with the team for years. Her hunger for success is evident, and so is her ability to make winning plays in clutch moments.
Against then-No. 12 Utah, Smith was everywhere for the Buffs. Her gritty effort — 12 rebounds, 4 steals and 11 points on a perfect 5/5 shooting performance — energized the Buffs and helped them secure the victory.
This performance earned Smith the highest honor a hungry teammate can earn: free dinner.
When asked if she had extra motivation to rebound well against Utah, Smith joked “[Sherrod] promised me she would buy me dinner, so yes. ... Not that I was bribed or anything.”
Sherrod said she used the world’s most effective motivator to help manifest a big game from the Aussie guard. Suffice to say, Sara-Rose Smith earned that free dinner.
“I actually really did challenge [Smith] last night,” Sherrod said. “We live together, so I went into her room like I always do ‘cause I’m bored half the time, and I said ‘If you get these stops in and go crazy, I’ll buy you dinner.”
Rebounding isn’t the only thing that Smith brings to the table, as her clutch shooting has been a game-changer off the bench. Her style of play meshes well with Colorado’s other guards, particularly Sherrod, the fifth-year senior point guard. Sherrod is relentless as a driver and has the ability to easily kick the ball out to Smith on the perimeter, where the Aussie is ready to fire away.
“[Sherrod and Kindyll Wetta] are just great creators for their teammates,” Smith said. “There’s so many times in practice where I’m just wide open in the corner and Jaylyn’s just throwing absolutely absurd passes to me. It’s like ‘how the hell does she get them there?’ Now I need to do my job and be knocking down those corner threes and stuff like that.”
Smith didn’t come to Colorado to get free food, she came here to win. Head coach JR Payne first recruited Smith out of high school in 2018. Smith’s final two schools came down to Colorado and Mizzou, but she made the choice to play in Columbia rather than Boulder.
After the team failed to make the NCAA Tournament during her three seasons with the Tigers, she made the decision to join the Buffaloes and play for a contender, even if it meant sacrificing some minutes.
“You started kicking yourself in the shins being like ‘Damn, [Colorado] is making the Sweet Sixteen and I’m playing in the WNIT for the past three years,’” told Smith. “You sort of think ‘Alright, I have a pretty decent relationship with these coaches. How can I make an impact and be a part of a successful program?’”
Smith’s decision has paid off and then some. The Buffs are one of the best teams in the nation and look poised to be a one seed in the tournament this year, while Mizzou is currently second to last in the SEC standings. It’s safe to say that Smith got exactly what she wanted out of her move to Boulder.
“This is the reason why I came here, playing at a high competition every single day, day in and day out,” said Smith after defeating Utah. “It’s exactly what I wanted.”
The Buffs are widely regarded as one of the deepest teams in the nation. Having players like Smith who are willing to accept less minutes for a bench role is a big reason for that. Sometimes less is more, and Smith is a perfect embodiment of that sentiment. She’s accepted her role as a bench contributor and is finally getting what she’s wanted all along: a shot at greatness.
Smith, perhaps Colorado’s most underrated piece during this 2024 run, has played no small part in the team’s success. When the Buffs make waves in March, expect to hear the name Sara-Rose Smith.