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Seattle visit brings unpleasant memories for CU Buffs men’s basketball veterans

Colorado's Wesley Gordon, right, blocks the shot of Sacramento State's Marcus Graves during the first half of their game at Coors Events Center on Friday.
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado’s Wesley Gordon, right, blocks the shot of Sacramento State’s Marcus Graves during the first half of their game at Coors Events Center on Friday.

CU men’s basketball preview: Seattle

MATCHUP: Seattle Redhawks (1-0) at Colorado Buffaloes (1-0).

GAME TIME: Monday, 7 p.m., Coors Events Center.

BROADCAST: Radio — 760 AM; TV — Pac-12 Network.

Seattle — Cameron Dollar, eighth season (95-121, 106-143 overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, seventh season (131-80, 187-146 overall).

Leaders (top returning from 2015-16): Seattle — Scoring: G Brendan Westendorf, Sr., 12.8 ppg; Rebounding: F William Powell, Sr., 6.8 rpg; Assists: Westendorf, 4.3 apg; Colorado — Scoring: G George King, Jr., 13.6 ppg; Rebounding: F Wesley Gordon, Sr., 7.6 rpg; Assists: G Dominique Collier, Jr., 2.7 apg.

NOTABLE: This is the first contest of the Legends Classic…Boyle said the key against the slower pace of Seattle will be to “create offense with our defense. We want this to be an up-tempo game, not a slow-down game.”…CU has never defeated Seattle in two matchups, losing in 1965 and again in the 2015 CBI tournament…CU senior Xavier Johnson needs four points to become the 33rd member of the program’s 1,000-point club…The Buffs finish their opening three-game homestand against Louisiana-Monroe on Thursday before traveling to Brooklyn to complete the Legends Classic with games against Notre Dame and either Texas or Northwestern.

A month ago, while in San Francisco for the Pac-12 Conference’s basketball media days, Wesley Gordon was taking in the sunny skyline view atop the league headquarters when he was asked about the darkest time for the Colorado Buffaloes during his tenure.

In March 2015, at the end of Gordon’s redshirt sophomore season, the Buffs took part in the College Basketball Invitational, a lower-tier postseason tournament that served as a fittingly hollow climax to a thoroughly disappointing 15-17 regular season.

The Buffs won their first CBI game at home against Gardner-Webb before traveling to Seattle University, where CU suffered a season-ending loss both stunning and uninspired.

With the Redhawks set to visit the Coors Events Center Monday night, the CU players who played in that game two years ago, like Gordon, look back to that game as the springboard for the team’s return to the NCAA Tournament last season.

“Last year was more about what happened the year before with the whole CBI thing,” Gordon said. “We really just wanted to show we’re better than that.”

Gordon, Xavier Johnson, Dominique Collier, and Tory Miller are the current Buffs who played in that game two seasons ago. It wasn’t a memorable phase of coach Tad Boyle’s tenure, with leading scorer Askia Booker not playing in the two CBI games and the Buffs finishing 16-18 on the heels of three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. It was a venture the Buffs easily could have passed on, yet Boyle felt it was imperative to continue competing — particularly for those younger players now being counted on for veteran leadership.

“I remember feeling extremely disappointed. Kind of gave us a reality check of where we were mentally and emotionally,” Boyle said. “I feel very, very convicted when I say the reason we played in that tournament was for, No. 1, the young players to get some experience. Dom and Tory were freshmen at that time. Wes was sophomore. We wanted to get those guys some tournament experience.

“And No. 2, the problem that team had that year is they picked and they chose when to compete. By not playing in that tournament, I would’ve been picking to not compete. And that was a problem that our team had. I didn’t want to perpetuate that problem as their coach, saying, ‘Oh, we’re too good for the CBI.’ Hey, we got a chance to play, let’s go play. I think that was just a principle statement on my behalf. Not that I wanted to do it, not that our players wanted to do it, but it had to be done in my mind from a principle standpoint.”

Seattle opened the season with a 76-65 win Friday against Pacific Lutheran, and the Redhawks count as the sort of opponent the Buffs should roll if they play with anywhere near the same efficiency as they displayed in Friday’s opening 90-53 win against Sacramento State. Yet Seattle also serves as a stark reminder to CU’s veterans that nothing can be taken for granted in a season they expect will end with another NCAA Tournament berth.

“I remember losing. Seattle, I guess I’ve got a little bit of a chip on my shoulder when it comes to them,” Miller said. “It was a rough year for us. I remember the tournament being good, but I remember that last loss my freshman season. That’s something you’re going to remember more than most wins you have.”

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