The last trip to Los Angeles made by the University of Colorado men’s basketball team was a memorable one for Evan Battey. Yet not for the reasons he would prefer.
It was mid-January 2018 when the Buffaloes made their almost-annual journey to UCLA and USC. During the trip, a Battey very much different than the young man the Buffs knew less than a month earlier reconnected with his teammates. Battey had been at his southern California home, recovering from a sudden and wildly unexpected stroke he suffered the day after Christmas, and when he met up with his teammates again the nerve damage to one side of Battey’s face was so pronounced that simply talking was difficult.
Needless to say, this week’s visit to Los Angeles likely will be far more gratifying for Battey. After putting together one of their finest performances of the 2017-18 season at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion, the Buffs, this time with Battey in tow, will seek a second consecutive win in a venue where they had never won prior to last season.
“It’s pretty special to me, especially with all I’ve been through with my health,” Battey said. “It’s a good moment. It will be really special to play in Galen (at USC) and Pauley.”
Besides being able to contribute on the floor for the Buffs one year after his basketball future was in question, the visits to UCLA on Wednesday (7 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Network) and USC on Saturday (8 p.m. MT, ESPNU) will be uniquely personal for Battey, who hails from the nearby Los Angeles suburb of View Park.
His mother, Rosalind, went to USC. His father, Earl, is a UCLA graduate who played baseball for the Bruins. While growing up, Battey and his family didn’t attend an overwhelming number of college basketball games, but they always went to the cross-town USC-UCLA showdowns. The Buffs’ redshirt freshman couldn’t put a number on the amount of friends and family members who are planning to be in the stands this week — “they have to buy their own tickets, so we’ll see,” Battey said — but it’s safe to say two venues that don’t exactly rank as the toughest environments for the visitors will have an ample supply of Battey backers.
“Oregon State, UCLA, and USC, those schools are all special to me, because my sister goes to Oregon State,” Battey said. “I think we realized Saturday (against Oregon) how important 40 minutes of basketball is. Hopefully we can keep that up going forward.”
Wednesday’s game at UCLA marks the beginning of the second half of the Pac-12 schedule. CU begins the final nine games with a 3-6 record while sitting at 10th-place in the league standings. Although the Buffs are two games ahead of 11th-place Washington State, they also are just two games away from fifth-place in the league’s crowded middle-pack. Despite the lapses that led to that 3-6 mark, Boyle is hopeful the experienced gained by Pac-12 newcomers like Battey will pay dividends down the stretch.
“This second half, the next nine games, will show ‘Has our team improved? Have we made the improvements we should make?’ I think the next nine games should prove that,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “Shane Gatling now has got 20-plus games of Division I basketball under his belt. D’Shawn Schwartz has got 20-something games, with the role that he’s got on this year’s team, under his belt.
“Basketball is still a game of runs, it’s a game of momentum. That’s not going to change. But our lapses mentally have got to be eliminated.”