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Colorado men’s basketball notes: Buffs hit defensive goals, but still room for improvement

BOULDER,CO:December 15: Colorado Buffaloe's KJ Simpson drives on North Alabama Lion' Damian Forrest in NCAA mens basketball on December 15, 2022. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
BOULDER,CO:December 15: Colorado Buffaloe’s KJ Simpson drives on North Alabama Lion’ Damian Forrest in NCAA mens basketball on December 15, 2022. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

The numbers say it was a solid game defensively for the Colorado men’s basketball team.

And it was, in most regards. Certainly it was more than good enough to win, as the Buffaloes did on Thursday night with an 84-60 victory against visiting North Alabama.

Yet head coach Tad Boyle expressed some mild discontent at the 23 fouls the Buffs committed. CU was able to overcome those mistakes thanks to an efficient night on offense and the Lions’ 13-for-27 struggles at the free throw line.

Against other foes, particularly in Pac-12 Conference play, the Buffs may not be so fortunate.

“I feel like we could’ve held them to 50 (points),” Boyle said. “Our double-teams in the post were atrocious. And we fouled so much, and we got let off the hook for fouling because they didn’t make foul shots. Yeah, we held them to 39%. That’s good. But we had a lot of breakdowns that we can’t have when we play in the Pac-12. Our players need to understand that.”

North Alabama was held to a season-low scoring total and finished with a season-low .389 mark from the floor. The Buffs held Lions leading scorer Daniel Ortiz to just seven points, all in the first half, and forced 13 turnovers. North Alabama’s 60 points also matched the lowest total for a CU foe this season.

“Statistically, it was a good night for us defensively,” Boyle said. “We held them to 60 points, a season-low. That was good. But it wouldn’t have been 60 if they shoot free throws. We fouled too much and we had some breakdowns that we can’t have. I don’t always judge everything on the field goal percentage.”

Turnover turnaround (?)

For the second consecutive game, the Buffs produced a low turnover total, finishing with 10. It was CU’s third-lowest total this season, as the Buffs matched a season-low with eight during last week’s win against Colorado State (the Buffs also had eight against Yale on Nov. 27).

Reckless giveaways crushed CU during its first two Pac-12 Conference games, as the Buffs committed 38 total in losses against Arizona State and Washington. Three of CU’s turnovers against North Alabama occurred on offensive fouls, as opposed to careless ball-handling, and since Boyle started forcing the Buffs to run the Events Center stairs after each practice turnover, CU has posted two of its three lowest turnover totals of the season.

“It definitely helps, because you don’t want to run for turning the ball over in practice,” CU point guard KJ Simpson said. “It’s good to see what we can do when we don’t turn over the ball. I also think it’s just a matter of playing more patient, more in the flow of offense instead of trying to get things on the first catch or the first dribble. I think when we play like that and we play composed at our pace, then we take care of the ball a lot more.”

O’Brien spark

Former Columbine star Luke O’Brien enjoyed another solid game off the bench for the Buffs, going 4-for-6 with 11 points and six rebounds. O’Brien connected on just his third 3-pointer of the season and also recorded a career-high five offensive rebounds.

O’Brien owned only one double-digit scoring effort in his career before scoring 10 during last week’s win against Colorado State. Now he has reached double figures in two consecutive games.

“Luke’s not over-thinking it,” Boyle said. “I think he’s really matured from a mental standpoint. He was kind of where Lawson (Lovering) is right now earlier in his career mentally, where he’s struggling a little bit and trying to find himself. I feel like Luke knows who he is and does what he does.”

Colorado connection

It wasn’t a victorious homecoming for the two Colorado natives on North Alabama’s roster. But the Lions’ two players from Fort Collins, Damian Forrest and Aidan Kuhl, fared well back home in Colorado.

Forrest, a starting forward from Poudre High, went 4-for-8 with nine points, five rebounds and a pair of assists, though he contributed to the Lions’ struggles at the free throw line by going 1-for-6.  Kuhl, a freshman guard from Rocky Mountain High, had scored all 21 of his points this season during the first three games, including 14 in the opener. But Kuhl ended the dry spell by hitting both his field goal attempts against the Buffs, including a 3-pointer, before finishing with six points.


CU starting forward J’Vonne Hadley continued to be a model of efficiency, going 5-for-6 with 11 points, four rebounds, one assist and no turnovers in nearly 21 minutes. In five games since returning from a two-game injury hiatus, Hadley has shot .759 (22-for-29)…After making his CU debut against Colorado State, redshirt freshman Quincy Allen once again got off the bench late against North Alabama. Allen put up an air ball on a 3-point attempt before knocking down a jumper…Jalen Gabbidon went 3-for-3 on free throws. After going 14-for-24 (.583) at the line through the season’s first six games, Gabbidon has gone 8-for-8 since.