LINCOLN, Neb.— One of the few bright spots for the Colorado men’s basketball team during a lopsided exhibition loss on Sunday at Nebraska was the play of sophomore wings Nique Clifford and Luke O’Brien.
CU head coach Tad Boyle has lauded the rebounding grit Clifford has displayed throughout the preseason, and that skill was on display during the Cornhuskers’ 82-67 victory. Clifford led a 47-37 rebounding advantage for the Buffs by grabbing eight, sharing the team-high and game-high mark with teammate Evan Battey.
“I just want to do whatever I can to help this team win,” Clifford said. “I don’t really care about the stats or none of that. What I can bring to the team is rebounding. So I’m going to try and go out there and do that every night.”
Clifford, from Colorado Springs, also grabbed seven rebounds during last week’s exhibition win against Colorado Mines, and he was the Buffs’ top rebounder during the club’s four-game exhibition trip to Costa Rica in August.
On Sunday, Clifford was one of the few Buffs who fared well offensively, going 5-for-10 with 12 points. O’Brien likewise enjoyed a solid game, going 3-for-4 with 11 points and four rebounds, all of them offensive boards.
After playing sparingly as freshmen last year, the two Colorado natives are on track for bigger roles this year. And despite the result on Sunday, getting a taste of an unfriendly gym on the road was a worthwhile experience.
“Definitely a good learning experience,” Clifford said. “We needed this to get us motivated to stay in the gym and get better. We have a lot of freshmen and sophomores, and even myself, I hadn’t played a lot last year and even I was a little nervous. I think it’s good for us and I feel a lot better getting really my first game under my hand. It’s good for the freshmen too to learn and get that experience. Because we’re going to play a lot of big games this season.”
Although he was on the trip, freshman guard Javon Ruffin did not play on Sunday due to swelling in his right knee.
Ruffin still is recovering from surgery to repair cartilage damage from a dislocated kneecap he suffered earlier this year. Ruffin played only four minutes during last week’s exhibition win against Mines as he has battled a recurring swelling issue through the preseason.
Last week, head coach Tad Boyle told BuffZone that a redshirt year could be in the works for Ruffin, but that decision still has not been finalized.
“We’ve got to talk to the doctors this week and see where he’s at,” Boyle said. “The thing keeps swelling up when he works out. We don’t want to keep making it worse, we want to make sure it gets better. We’ll be patient with it.
“We want him to play. One thing he can do I think is shoot the ball. We kind of need that right now. But it’s going to take time with Javon. We knew that.”
CU saw a familiar face in former Arizona State guard Alonzo Verge Jr., who now is starting at Nebraska. Verge was one of four Nebraska players in double-figures with 10 points…The Buffs finished with 10 assists against 16 turnovers. Jabari Walker (five) and KJ Simpson (four) accounted for nine of those turnovers…Senior forward Will Loughlin was the only one of the Buffs’ five walk-ons included on the trip to Nebraska. Loughlin did not play.