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Tipoff: CU Buffs men’s basketball gets ’22-’23 started against UC Riverside

Sophomore Lawson Lovering and the CU Buffs get the '22-23 season started against UC Riverside.  (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
Sophomore Lawson Lovering and the CU Buffs get the ’22-23 season started against UC Riverside. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

As far as motivational speeches go, Tad Boyle wasn’t exactly spouting win-one-for-the-Gipper material as Colorado honed in on its men’s basketball season opener.

By no means is Boyle bracing for the worst when the Buffaloes begin their 120th season of varsity basketball at home on Monday night against UC Riverside. But, even as they harbor expectations of outplaying the bulk of their preseason projections, there is an admission the Buffs will be a work in progress — particularly during an early slate featuring the start of a two-week road trip later this week.

“We’re not going to play a perfect game on Monday, I’ve got news for you,” Boyle said. “We’re going to make mistakes. We’ve got to play through mistakes. We’ve got to not get your head down when mistakes happen. And let the chips fall where they may.”

Although the Buffs impressed during a dress rehearsal last week against Nebraska, posting a 71-62 exhibition win, Monday’s opener marks the official debut of a Buffs squad balanced equally between veterans who have developed within the program and newcomers expecting to give CU a deep and balanced rotation.

Tristan da Silva, Nique Clifford and Luke O’Brien have been in the program the longest, and they still are juniors. Last year’s active freshmen — KJ Simpson, Lawson Lovering and Julian Hammond III — all are poised to build on their rookie seasons. Javon Ruffin and Quincy Allen are talented redshirt freshmen returning from injuries who could be factors as well.

Additionally, CU’s three transfers — Ivy League graduate transfers Jalen Gabbidon and Ethan Wright, in addition to junior college forward J’Vonne Hadley — could eventually give the Buffs one of the more versatile rotations in the Pac-12.

“We got a taste of it in the scrimmages, and we played pretty good. So we’re really excited for the season and finally get to where it all matters,” da Silva said. “Coach already talked about it — we’ve got to be ready from the get-go, because every game counts to where we want to be at the end of the year.

“Every game counts. We have the capability. We just have to be locked-in from the get-go. We can’t be (bad) the first game and then expect we can turn it up when we see Tennessee (Nov. 13).”

Boyle has said he expects the Buffs to play fast, given he can easily play at least 10 guys every night. He also expects the Buffs to be an above-par shooting team after leading the Pac-12 in 3-point percentage last year. Yet CU didn’t at all start last season hot from long range, and so he is approaching the start of his 13th season with the Buffs attuned more on the process than the result.

“What I look at right now is that I just look at every possession that we have, every time we have the ball, our players do know what our mission is when we have the ball — we want to get a great start for our team,” Boyle said. “We can’t do that if we don’t execute. If we turn it over. If we shoot with hands in our face or contested shots. That’s not a great shot for our team. We know what our mission is on offense. We know what our mission is on defense. We want to contest every shot, whether it’s in the paint or the perimeter at the three line.

“What I’m concerned with is the possession-by-possession execution. It’s about being consistent possession after possession, offense and defense. We’ve really talked about converting from defense to offense, and offense to defense. Those are the things that I’m concerned with.”

UC Riverside Highlanders at CU Buffs men’s basketball

TIPOFF: 6:30 p.m. Monday, CU Events Center.

TV/RADIO: TV — Pac-12 Mountain. Radio — KOA 850 AM and 94.1 FM

RECORDS (2021-22): UC Riverside 16-12, 9-6 Big West Conference; Colorado 21-12, 12-8 Pac-12 Conference.

COACHES: UC Riverside — Mike Magpayo, 3rd season (30-20 at UC Riverside and overall). Colorado — Tad Boyle, 13th season (254-155, 310-221 overall).

KEY PLAYERS (2021-22 stats): UC Riverside — G Zyon Pullin, Sr., 6-5, 14.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 4.3 apg; G Flynn Cameron, Gr., 6-5, 10.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg; F Will Tattersall, Jr., 6-7, 8.0 ppg, 3.0 ppg. Colorado — F Tristan da Silva, Jr., 6-9, 9.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg, .373 3-point percentage; G Nique Clifford, Jr., 6-6, 6.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg; G KJ Simpson, So., 6-2, 7.4 ppg, 2.7 apg.

NOTES: CU has never played UC Riverside. … The Buffs have won their past six season openers. CU has not lost a season opener at home since a 2007 loss to New Mexico in Jeff Bzdelik’s first game as the Buffs’ coach. … CU was picked sixth in the Pac-12 preseason media poll. … UC Riverside posted a 94-79 win against CSU Dominguez Hills in an exhibition game on Oct. 28. Cameron Flynn hit five 3-pointers and led the Highlanders with 21 points. … Zyon Pullin was the Highlanders’ leading scorer last year. … The Buffs will remain on the road for nearly two full weeks, beginning with a Friday night date at Grambling State. CU plays No. 11 Tennessee in Nashville on Nov. 13, and from there the Buffs will travel to Myrtle Beach Invitational, which begins Nov. 17.