SALT LAKE CITY — It has been a gradual process, and one not without a few hiccups along the way, but Evan Battey is showing signs of settling into his role in his first season of college basketball.
The Colorado Buffaloes just need to see more of it.
Despite the Buffs' struggles so far in Pac-12 Conference play, losing three of their first four league games and five of the past seven games overall going into Sunday's date at Utah, Battey has been a bright spot lately.
"I think the game is slowing down for him a little bit," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "He's definitely gaining confidence. He played great (against Washington). But we needed him out there for 21 to 24 minutes, not 11."
Like just about all the Buffs, the 6-foot-8 Battey struggled during CU's three games at the Diamond Head Classic in late December, going 4-for-17 from the floor as CU lost two of three games. Battey has put it together so far in Pac-12 play, going 10-for-19 from the field. That stretch also included a career-best 14 rebounds against Washington State, with five of those occurring at the offensive end.
As Boyle alluded to, however, Battey has battled foul trouble, finishing both games in Arizona with four fouls and playing only 11 minutes in last week's loss against Washington before fouling out. Given he went 3-for-4 with two rebounds in that cameo appearance, Battey, like Tyler Bey, has to make adjustments in order to make certain he stays on the floor.
"It's imperative that we stay out of foul trouble," Battey said. "I think if we had stayed out of foul trouble against Washington, we might have had a chance to win that game. Just little stuff like that. Take away the silly ones and be smart with our fouls. We're going to be on the road Sunday, so we know beforehand we're not going to get any calls. So it's about playing smart and eliminating the silly fouls."
This week, Boyle noted that Utah forward Donnie Tillman is one of the most improved players in the Pac-12. The numbers certainly support that claim.
Tillman shot .478 last year in 28 games, mostly off the bench, and averaged 7.8 points and 4.8 rebounds. Going into Sunday's game against the Buffs, Tillman has played in all 16 games with nine starts and is averaging 11.3 points with a team-best 5.8 rebounds.
"It's early, but from what I've seen the way he shoots the ball from three now, that was not part of his game last year," Boyle said. "He's a very, very tough matchup because he's so big and strong and physical, but now he can shoot the three. He presents matchup problems for you to some degree."
Tillman was just 9-for-28 (.321) on 3-pointers last year but brings a .371 mark (23-for-62) into the matchup against the Buffs.
Utah is 6-2 this season at home, with losses against nationally-ranked Nevada and, last week, against Washington...Former Regis High standout Marc Reininger is a reserve for the Utes...Utah leads the all-time series against CU 27-22, with wins in eight of the past nine matchups.