Things will get tougher for the Colorado men’s basketball team in the very near future. By the end of the week, to be specific.
Yet for an opening act, the Buffaloes made a solid first impression.
Colorado got its 120th season of men’s basketball started with a thorough all-around performance, topping UC Riverside 82-66 on Monday at the CU Events Center.
It was CU’s seventh consecutive win in a season opener and gave head coach Tad Boyle, in his 13th season with the Buffs, his 255th win, inching closer to Sox Walseth’s program record of 261.
“First games are never easy. You never know what quite to expect out of your team,” Boyle said. “Riverside is a really good opponent. Anybody that saw that game saw they’ve got some guards that are really, really good. We did a really good job of guarding the 3-point line, because they’ve got some shooters that we didn’t let get going tonight. I think that was a big part of the game.”
Despite the relatively comfortable final score, Boyle will have plenty of material to review before the Buffs embark on a two-week, five-game road trip later this week.
Size could be an issue for CU this season, and Riverside managed to grab 15 offensive rebounds, including nine in the first half. CU committed a not-too-gaudy 13 turnovers, with a few occurring late with the outcome decided, but having seven of those 13 charged to the starting backcourt of KJ Simpson and Nique Clifford is something that will have to change on the road.
Offensively, the Buffs shot .469 overall, and after missing their first four 3-point attempts the Buffs went 6-for-9 from the arc the rest of the way. CU attempted 26 free throws but made only 16 (61.5%).
Yet as Boyle noted, CU’s perimeter defense was superb, holding Riverside to a 4-for-21 mark on 3-pointers. The Buffs also used their superior depth to their advantage, pushing the pace for a 14-6 edge on fast break points, while the CU bench outscored the Highlanders reserves 32-19.
“If you look at our roster, it’s no secret that at this level we’re a little under-sized, but we have the athleticism and the skill to back it up,” said Yale graduate transfer Jalen Gabbidon, who led the bench effort with 12 points in his CU debut. “That’s one of our strengths is that we’re fast. One through 18, we can all get out. We work on that in practice. We push the ball hard. That was a big point of emphasis. We’re at altitude. We’re going to run, we’re going to push the ball, we’re going to play an exciting game.”
Four players scored in double figures for the Buffs, who received an impressive showing from junior college transfer J’Vonne Hadley in his CU debut. Hadley scored a team-high 16 points, going 6-for-12 from the floor with eight rebounds, three assists, one steal, one blocked shot and no turnovers in more than 23 minutes. Simpson finished with 14 points with three assists, three rebounds and two steals.
The Buffs jumped to a 10-3 lead but the Highlanders stayed close early and eventually took a 15-14 lead midway through the first half. CU responded by scoring the next 14 points, ultimately putting together a 25-5 run on the way to a 46-28 lead at halftime.
“I think with this team, the balance and the depth, it might be different guys on different nights,” Boyle said. “And that’s one thing I’ve really tried to impress upon the guys. Tonight might not have been your night. You might not have gotten the minutes or the shots. But the next game might be. This is not going to be a team where we have to depend on one specific guy to go get us X-amount of points. We’ve got a lot of different guys on this team that can score the ball in different ways.”
Snapshot: CU Buffs vs. UC Riverside
Turning point: The Highlanders stayed close early and actually led 15-14 midway through the first half, but the Buffs took control by answering with a 25-5 run.
Buff of the game: J’Vonne Hadley. The junior college transfer continued to showcase the all-around play he displayed during CU’s exhibition with against Nebraska, finishing his official Buffs debut with 16 points, eight rebounds and three assists.
What’s next?: The Buffs begin a demanding two-week, five-game road trip at Grambling State on Friday night (6 p.m. MT, ESPN+) as part of the Pac-12’s scheduling agreement with the SWAC.
Colorado 82, UC Riverside 66
UC RIVERSIDE (0-1)
Olbrich 2-9 0-0 4, Martinez 2-4 1-1 5, Cameron 4-10 1-2 11, Pullin 8-16 1-4 17, Tattersall 4-11 1-2 10, Owens 5-10 0-0 10, Salaridze 2-3 0-1 4, Hartwell 1-7 0-0 2, Turner 1-2 0-0 3. Totals 29-72 4-10 66.
da Silva 4-8 2-4 12, Lovering 1-7 2-2 4, Clifford 1-3 1-3 4, Hadley 6-12 4-5 16, Simpson 5-10 3-5 14, Hammond 3-5 0-0 6, Gabbidon 4-5 4-6 12, O’Brien 1-4 0-0 3, Ruffin 3-5 0-1 7, Wright 2-5 0-0 4. Totals 30-64 16-26 82.
Halftime — Colorado 46-28. 3-point field goals — UC Riverside 4-21 (Cameron 2-6, Turner 1-2, Tattersall 1-4, Hartwell 0-1, Pullin 0-1, Salaridze 0-1, Martinez 0-2, Olbrich 0-2, Owens 0-2), Colorado 6-13 (da Silva 2-2, Ruffin 1-1, Clifford 1-2, O’Brien 1-2, Simpson 1-2, Gabbidon 0-1, Hadley 0-1, Hammond 0-1, Wright 0-1). Rebounds — UC Riverside 44 (Olbrich 10), Colorado 43 (Hadley 8). Assists — UC Riverside 7 (Cameron 2), Colorado 15 (Hadley, Simpson 3). Total fouls — UC Riverside 22, Colorado 12. A — 5,388.