Leadership questions intensify for CU Buffs hoops after suspensions

Leadership has been a big question mark for the Colorado Buffaloes men’s basketball team throughout its disappointing 2016-17 season.

That question mark became more glaring Sunday at Cal.

The Buffs played without two fifth-year seniors, Wesley Gordon and Xavier Johnson, who both were suspended for a violation of team rules.

Head coach Tad Boyle did not disclose the transgression, saying only “it happened between the Stanford game (Thursday) and tipoff today.” Boyle also indicated he still has yet to determine if the duo’s punishment will end at just one game.

“We’re in the education business,” Boyle said. “Obviously it’s our business to win games as well, but these are lessons that go beyond basketball. You just handle the situations as they arise as a coach, whether that’s a basketball-related issue or an off-the-court issue. We do it with all our players.”

In Johnson, the Buffs went to battle without their second-leading scorer and third-leading rebounder. Gordon is CU’s leading rebounder, and his status as the team’s top interior defender was expected to be a critical piece of the Buffs’ defensive strategy against 6-foot-11 Cal forward Ivan Rabb.

Without the duo the Buffs were outrebounded 40-32, marking just the second time in Pac-12 play CU has been outrebounded. After freshman forward Lucas Siewert got into foul trouble, the Buffs often were forced to match up 6-foot-6 guard George King against Rabb, one of the premier post players in the nation.

“George King did a great job on Ivan Rabb defensively giving up a lot of size and a lot of inches,” Boyle said. “We had two interior guys that weren’t there. But it’s not about that. It’s about the guys that played. They battled. We just weren’t good enough at critical times.”

Johnson also missed the second half of CU’s loss at Arizona State on Jan. 7 after getting ejected due to an altercation late in the first half.

Miller keeps rolling

Given his second start of the season in an unexpected manner, junior forward Tory Miller continued his recent run of solid contributions, going 4-for-7 from the field and finishing with 10 points and a season-most nine rebounds, falling just short of the third double-double of his career. He also added two assists, two steals, a blocked shot, and no turnovers in 33 minutes.

Though Miller’s impressive field goal percentage in Pac-12 games took a slight hit, that mark still stands at a robust .640.

“You always want to have Wes and X, but me and (Siewert) are always ready to play. Especially me,” Miller said. “I think that every game I’m going to start, regardless of whether I start or not.”

King gets on track

In 56 games from the beginning of last season into Thursday’s date at Stanford, King had not been held without a point in any of them.

That changed in Thursday’s win against the Cardinal, and King still went scoreless through the first half of Sunday’s loss at Cal. He scored seven points during CU’s failed second-half rally, though, while continuing his improved work on the boards. King finished with eight rebounds, and he is on the brink of supplanting Gordon as the team’s leading rebounder for the first time this season.

Sunday’s effort left King with a rebounding average of 7.1, and he’s closing fast on Gordon (7.3). King has posted at least seven rebounds in five of the past seven games.


After going just 31-for-57 on free throws in last week’s home wins against Oregon State and Oregon, the Buffs’ 18-for-22 effort Sunday gave them a 42-for-50 mark on the two-game road trip…Josh Fortune recorded a season-best five assists…With seven points against Cal, Siewert has scored 18 points in the past four games. He recorded 16 points in the previous 19 games.

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