Saturday's surprising 67-52 loss to Kansas in the first round of the Women's NCAA Tournament put an end to Colorado's season.

It hardly put an end to the building project head coach Linda Lappe and her staff have been working on for the past three years, though.

Rather, it may have just been another important step for the Buffaloes, who finished 25-7.

"There are a lot of positive things that are going to happen (next year)," Lappe said following Saturday's loss. "I told our team we're going to be back in the NCAA Tournament. Now we know what it means, what it takes and how you have to play on a big stage."

Simply getting to the NCAA Tournament was a huge step for this program. Consider where the Buffs were just three years ago today.

Brittany Wilson scores against Kansas’ Angel Goodrich on Saturday.
Brittany Wilson scores against Kansas' Angel Goodrich on Saturday. ( CLIFF GRASSMICK )

On March 25, 2010, the Buffs were reeling from a 13-17 season. It was their second consecutive losing season, and their fifth in six years. And, on this day three years ago, it was revealed that the CU administration was working on terminating the contract of head coach Kathy McConnell-Miller. Later that week, McConnell-Miller's five-year tenure officially came to an end.

A little more than two weeks later, Lappe was named the Buffs' new head coach. The program has been on the upswing ever since.

In just three short years, Lappe, who was a key player for the Buffs in the early 2000s, has done a remarkable job in restoring some glory to the CU program.

Under Lappe, CU is 64-37 (the Buffs were 74-107 in the six years before that). They squeaked into the Women's NIT in 2010-11 and got back there a year ago. They reached the WNIT quarterfinals both years.

This year, CU reached 25 wins for the first time since 1996, won 13 conference games for the first time since 1995 and got into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004.

"I think the program has come a long ways, especially since I first got on campus," said senior Chucky Jeffery, who played her last game as a Buff on Saturday. "I think the coaches are doing a great job recruiting and I think they're going to be back here for sure next year. They will. This is a good team. This is a good program and I think it's definitely on the rise. It's not going to stop here."

Colorado certainly isn't the first team to deal with a bump on the road to greatness.

South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley, whose team will play in Boulder on Monday night against Kansas, said dealing with disappointment is part of the process. This is her fifth season with the Gamecocks, including two losing seasons to start out.

"In building you're going to have disappointments," Staley said. "I'm quite sure they're extremely disappointed about not going to the second round, but it's building. The thing that should fuel (Lappe) is not having that happen again."

As with every team, the first question is how the Buffs will replace their three seniors.

Twins Brenna and Meagan Malcolm-Peck didn't have the same impact on the court that Jeffery did, but both were extremely popular in the locker room and their leadership was vital.

Jeffery, of course, will be the toughest senior to replace. She is one of the program's all-time greats. Lappe recently said the main thing CU will miss with Jeffery is her ability to make plays when the Buffs need them. Nobody else on the roster has ever shown a consistent ability to do that, although Lappe said that could be in part because Jeffery took that role.

CU certainly has players capable of filling the gaps. Excellent recruiting by Lappe and her staff has raised the talent level immensely during the past three years.

Current juniors Ashley and Brittany Wilson, along with Rachel Hargis, will be counted on heavily to be leaders on and off the court. Beyond those three, there is a load of talent up and down the roster, including redshirt freshman Arielle Roberson, who is emerging as a star. Sophomore Jen Reese and true freshman Jamee Swan were also brilliant at times this season.

With four new recruits coming in, CU will have nine players that are sophomores or freshmen. But, as a program, the Buffs are eager to continue the progression they have made the past three years.

"Next year, it'll be a great team," Brittany Wilson said. "(Getting to the NCAA Tournament) was definitely an experience. We didn't know what it takes to win an NCAA game, we'd never been there. Now that we know, now that we've got the feeling, once the sting is out, we'll be back and we'll be ready to go."

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.