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CU Buffs men’s basketball notes: Lineup shakeup pays off in upset of No. 2 Arizona

Julian Hammond III makes first start of CU career

BOULDER, CO, February 26, 2022:  University of Colorado Boulder's KJ Simpson drives on Arizona's  Christian Koloko  during the Pac-12 game in Boulder on February 26, 2022. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
BOULDER, CO, February 26, 2022: University of Colorado Boulder’s KJ Simpson drives on Arizona’s Christian Koloko during the Pac-12 game in Boulder on February 26, 2022. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
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Julian Hammond III barely had time to get nervous after being informed he would make his first career start against the nation’s second-ranked team.

The shakeup enacted by head coach Tad Boyle worked perfectly during Colorado’s historic 79-63 win against No. 2 Arizona on Saturday night at the CU Events Center.

Not only did Hammond respond with a solid effort in a pressure-packed situation, but the two players Hammond leapfrogged for at least one night in the point guard rotation — Keeshawn Barthelemy and KJ Simpson — both responded with critical efforts off the bench as CU topped a No. 2-ranked team for just the second time in program history.

“Coach Boyle told me today at shoot-around,” Hammond said. “It was a couple hours before the game. It was kind of a shock. But I just dealt with it and went out and played.”

Despite getting the start, Hammond still played the fewest minutes among the three point guards, going 3-for-5 with seven points in 20 minutes.

Barthelemy and Simpson both struggled during CU’s stunning home loss against Arizona State two nights earlier, with Barthelemy going 3-for-11 while Simpson went 1-for-4 with five turnovers.

Barthelemy made a huge response to his first omission from the starting lineup this season, going 6-for-13 from the floor and 3-for-3 at the free throw line with 15 points, two assists, and no turnovers. Simpson recorded 10 points on a 4-for-11 night, adding two assists and two steals with only one turnover.

“I don’t want people thinking I was blaming Keeshawn. Because I wasn’t,” Boyle said. “I was just trying to shake things up. Let’s rattle the cage a little bit. Part of it was to challenge Keeshawn and man, how did he respond? The charge he took in the second half, I’m not sure he would’ve made that play at any other time of this career. He attacked and he didn’t pout. He didn’t put his head down.

“I told him this is nothing more than trying to rattle cages and see if we can get some different mojo going. I thought about starting KJ. He didn’t play great on Thursday. So I felt like Julian deserved it. And Julian responded in a big way. That’s a tough game to have your first start.”

High praise

Among the many people who have received Evan Battey’s gratitude as Senior Night approached was team manager CJ Armitage, who has served as Battey’s primary rebounder during the lengthy, post-practice shooting sessions that helped Battey turn into one of the most efficient 3-point shooters in the Pac-12.

“I owe a lot of credit to him, honestly, in my improvement this year,” Battey said. “Any time, any day, he’s coming in and rebounding for me, cheering me on, saying ‘Shoot the ball!’ Because he knows. He’s put in so much work. To me, not to shoot is a disservice to him.”

2022 Senior Day II (?)

Earlier this week, Boyle hinted he would like to host another basketball Senior Day of sorts later this year.

Because last year’s seniors — McKinley Wright IV, D’Shawn Schwartz, Dallas Walton, Jeriah Horne, Maddox Daniels and Alex Strating — did not receive the typical Senior Day sendoff due to the fan-less environments of 2020-21, Boyle said he hoped to get the group together to be recognized by Buff Nation at an early football home game later this year.

With Wright playing professionally and all of the others except Daniels using their extra COVID season elsewhere, getting the group together during the basketball season was logistically impossible.

“I do plan on bringing that class back,” Boyle said. “I’d like to do it at the first home football game next year and kind of introduce them to the crowd. During the basketball season, it’s hard. Those guys are going to be playing professionally somewhere. It’s hard to get them back. But hopefully early in September, late in August, we can get them back to campus and honor them at least in front of the football stadium and recognize their contributions.”

Party time

CU star forward Jabari Walker said the court-storming crowd that took over the floor as the buzzer sounded caught him by surprise. But the celebration was more than worth risking a few bruises.

“I forgot that the plan was to storm if we won, so it kind of caught me off guard,” Walker said. “When it happened, I kind of got scared. I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ I wish I would’ve had my head on a swivel. I got hit from every which way, but it was amazing.”

Walker recorded his 15th double-double of the season (15 points, 14 rebounds) after recording just four points and five rebounds during CU’s loss at Arizona on Jan. 13.

Crowd pleaser

Not only did the sellout crowd of 11,079 give the Buffs a huge emotional edge against the visiting Wildcats, but it helped CU avoid potentially finishing with the lowest average regular season attendance of the Boyle era (not including the fan-less games of 2020-21).

Saturday’s crowd, the first sellout since the final home game of the 2019-20 season, nudged the final regular season attendance average to 7,141 over 17 dates, a figure that certainly took a hit when the Dec. 21 home date against Kansas was canceled due to COVID issues.

The 7,141 average still is the second-lowest of the Boyle era, trailing only the 7,014 average during Boyle’s first season of 2010-11. In 2018-19 the Buffs averaged 6,868 fans at home games overall, but that mark included two sparsely-attended home games in the NIT. During the regular season that year, CU averaged 7,185.

Notable

Besides the four players — Battey, Elijah Parquet, Will Loughlin and Benan Ersek — CU also honored a number of graduating team managers and trainers as part of the Senior Night festivities — Michael Georgiton,  Nick Hartung, Taye Jones, Ben Potts, Chris Spears, and Vincent True…Saturday’s win was CU’s 23rd against a ranked foe during Boyle’s 12 seasons…Arizona lost for the fifth straight time in Boulder and fell to 2-7 at CU since the Buffs joined the Pac-12…The Buffs entered the game 0-17 all-time against No. 2-ranked teams…Arizona’s 63 points was a season-low. It was just the second time this season the Wildcats have been held under 70 points…Arizona entered the game leading the nation in assists per game (20.5) but was held to a season-low 11 assists.

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