He has played the role of the x-factor for the Colorado Buffaloes for much of his basketball career in Boulder.

Now Wesley Gordon's contributions, as well as finally approaching the lofty ceiling on his myriad talents, will be a crucial aspect of the Buffs' quest to take the best of their rollercoaster ride through the nonconference slate into the beginning of Pac-12 Conference play, which begins for CU Sunday at Utah (4:30 p.m., ESPNU).

Gordon, a fifth-year senior, always has been somewhat of an enigma, a superb rebounder and interior defender who often appears to approach offense as an afterthought. With the Buffs generally disappointed in their nonconference showing, yet still brimming with confidence regarding their expectations in league play, Gordon hopes a recent swing in the right direction with his shooting touch continues through the stretch run of his CU career.

"I've just been focusing on finishing. That's what I'm trying to do," Gordon said. "I think it's coming along well. I was getting frustrated with myself, but I've got confidence in myself to make shots. I know our team is better off when I'm aggressive, so I'm trying to keep that mindset."

It was after a lackluster win against Division II Fort Hays State two weeks ago when head coach Tad Boyle expressed some frustration with Gordon's offensive contributions. Up to that point Gordon had been struggling from the field, a notion Boyle has stated a couple times during the season could be a consequence of Gordon now drawing the opposition's top interior defender with former standout forward Josh Scott no longer in the picture.


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Yet that assertion doesn't explain why six of the nine double-doubles Gordon produced over the previous two seasons occurred while Scott was sidelined due to various injuries. (That total also includes last year's loss at Oregon State, when Scott went down with an ankle injury just before halftime and didn't return.) And it also didn't help explain how a player of Gordon's caliber could go 6-for-18 in a season-opening run against lightweights Sacramento State, Seattle, and Louisiana-Monroe.

That start continued an alarming trend for Gordon, a .514 shooter from the field during his first two seasons who slipped to .417 last year. Yet in the last three games Gordon shot a solid 9-for-13, posting his second double-double of the season with 11 points and 10 rebounds in CU's most recent outing against Eastern Washington.

An above-par passer, Gordon ranks third on the team in assists with 27, just two behind second-place Thomas Akyazili. Many of those assists occur when Gordon kicks the ball out to one of CU's 3-point shooters. Yet as Boyle stated after that Fort Hays State game, turning some of those kick-outs into interior shot attempts, and in turn making some of Gordon's 2-for-3 nights closer to 4-for-6, will significantly boost an inside punch that often has been lacking for the Buffs.

"Wes is Wes. He does some really, really good things for our team," Boyle said. "You always want a little bit more out of each guy, especially seniors. You hope they step into that senior, sense-of-urgency type mindset. Hopefully that will come over Wes at some point as we head through this conference play.

"He's a good player. He's a very good rebounder. He's one of our best defenders. He's a capable scorer, we just want him to stay aggressive."

Pat Rooney: rooneyp@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/prooney07