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Game day notes: CU Buffs guard Ethan Wright ready for one last shot at Yale

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Colorado guard and former Princeton player Ethan Wright is welcoming one last chance to take on Yale. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
Colorado guard and former Princeton player Ethan Wright is welcoming one last chance to take on Yale. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Jalen Gabbidon will not be the only Colorado player taking on some familiar faces on Sunday.

Gabbidon, CU’s graduate transfer from Yale, will have an opportunity to battle his old teammates when the Bulldogs visit the CU Events Center for the first time in 13 years (1 p.m., Pac-12 Network).

While it is an opportunity for Gabbidon to see a few good friends, the familiarity will have a slightly different feel for CU’s Ethan Wright. Also an Ivy League graduate transfer, Wright, from Princeton, has faced eight times in his career, most recently in the Ivy League tournament championship game in March. Wright walked off the floor as the winner just once in those games.

“I didn’t expect it, but this one is kind of personal to me,” Wright said. “They have a great culture. They just have really tough players. They’re really good at rebounding on defense. That’s kind of what they take pride in and what they’ve done really well in the past. We’ve just got to be ready for a fight.

“They’re not going to give up the whole game. They’re going to attack the glass. They’re going to attack the paint. We’ve got to be ready for that.”

One of Wright’s eight appearances against Yale was only a one-minute cameo in his very first Yale-Princeton battle during the 2018-19 season. In his other seven games against the Bulldogs, Wright averaged 12.9 points and 7.0 rebounds, shooting .500 overall and .343 on 3-pointers (12-for-35).

Wright’s biggest game against the Bulldogs helped lead Princeton to its only win against Yale during that span. On Feb. 19 at Yale earlier this year, Wright posted 23 points, nine rebounds and five assists in a Princeton win, going 9-for-13 overall and 3-for-6 on 3-pointers.

Shooting straight

Among the puzzling deficiencies that have struck the Buffs in the season’s opening weeks has been the struggles at the free throw line.

Two years ago, CU made a run at the NCAA single-season record before settling on an .819 mark that set a team and Pac-12 record. Last year, the Buffs shot .756 at the line, the fourth-best single-season mark in team history.

Granted, many of the players responsible for those figures are gone. That includes last year’s top three free throw shooters in terms of attempts in Keeshawn Barthelemy (.826), Jabari Walker (.784) and Evan Battey (.759). CU also lost Elijah Parquet, who shot a solid .750 in an injury-shortened season.

Still, a few Buffs are off to unexpectedly poor starts at the line. J’Vonne Hadley, who hopes to return against Yale after missing the past two games due to a shoulder injury, is 9-for-14. Nique Clifford is just 5-for-11. And Gabbidon, an 81% free throw shooter last year for Yale, has struggled to a 14-for-24 mark.

CU goes into the Yale game with a .677 mark at the line (90-for-133).

“In my career I’ve been a pretty good free throw shooter. I think it’s a matter of just finding my rhythm,” said Gabbidon, whose 24 free throw attempts is second only to KJ Simpson’s 28. “I’ve got to make free throws. That’s part of my job. At the end of the day, I’ve just got to tee it up at the line and knock it down.”

Yellow light

Boyle expressed confidence in a few long-range shooters who haven’t quite heated up yet. But if CU’s long-range slump doesn’t improve soon, those players’ green light might soon change to red.

“At some point, I think the player’s responsible. It’s just like free throws. You step up and got to make them,” Boyle said. “You get an open three, you’ve got to make them. Now, you may not make every one, but you’ve got to make them at a percentage that leaves opponents and your coaches and your teammates realize that you’re a good shooter.

“We’re getting close to the point where I’ve got to tell some guys to quit taking them. We’re not there yet. I want to see how the next few games go. We’ve got Yale, and then two league games against Arizona State and Washington, who plays a lot of zone. We’ve got to be able to make some threes against a zone. Probably after the Washington game I’ll kind of see where we’re at.”

High praise

Yale coach James Jones is in his 24th season with the Bulldogs. He is the winningest coach in program history (358) and owns the second-most wins in Ivy League history, trailing only former Princeton coach Pete Carril.

The Bulldogs have enjoyed some of their best seasons under Jones more recently, winning some form of the past three Ivy League titles (conference tourney in 2019, 2022; regular season in 2020; Ivy League didn’t play in 2020-21) while recording four NCAA Tournament appearances since 2016.

“James Jones does a great job,” Boyle said. “They’ve got great culture. They have pride. He’s made them into a really, really good program. When I talk to Jalen, he beams with pride when he talks about Yale basketball. That’s the way it should be. That’s a result of the job coach Jones has done with all their players.”

Series history

The Buffs and Bulldogs have met three times, with CU owning a 2-1 advantage.

The programs first met on Dec. 27, 1952 in the Big Seven Christmas Tournament, with Yale edging CU 56-54 on a day that saw the Buffs go 19-for-70 (.271). It took 47 years until the teams met again, this time in Boulder where the Buffs posted a 65-60 win on Nov. 25, 1999. The Bulldogs returned 10 years later as CU posted a 70-59 win on Dec. 29, 2009 behind 23 points from Cory Higgins, 19 from then-freshman Alec Burks and 15 points from Marcus Relphorde.

Allen DNPs

Boyle reiterated this week the lack of playing time for Quincy Allen — particularly during garbage time of last week’s rout of Texas A&M — has not been any sort of punitive measure for Allen missing the Nov. 11 game at Grambling State for reasons Boyle has not disclosed. At this point, Allen simply is the odd man out of a 10-man rotation.

“Nothing punitive with Quincy,” Boyle said. “The rotation is the rotation right now.”