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KJ Simpson rallies CU Buffs men’s basketball past Stanford

Colorado guard KJ Simpson (2) celebrates with Julian Hammond III after the team's 73-70 victory against Stanford in an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022, in Stanford, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
Colorado guard KJ Simpson (2) celebrates with Julian Hammond III after the team’s 73-70 victory against Stanford in an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022, in Stanford, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

STANFORD, Calif. — Colorado performed an act of thievery on Thursday night. And KJ Simpson led the heist.

CU’s sophomore point guard was brilliant down the stretch and the Buffaloes recorded key defensive stops when they needed it most in a 73-70 road win against Stanford on Thursday night in a Pac-12 Conference battle at Maples Pavilion.

Simpson scored the final four points of the game and the Buffs’ final 11 points overall to lead CU to its fifth consecutive victory. It also was CU’s third consecutive win at Maples Pavilion.

“We stole one from Stanford. Much like Arizona State stole one from us back in (early) December,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “I credit our guys for that, just like I credited Arizona State from stealing the game against us. Unlike that (ASU) game, we got stops at the end when we needed to. That’s what you have to do to win close games down the stretch.”

CU led 17-8 after a Luke O’Brien 3-point play at the 12 minute, 54 second mark of the first half, but Stanford outscored the Buffs 33-16 into the first two minutes of the second half.

Stanford led for the bulk of the second half before Simpson took over down the stretch. A Simpson 3-point play with 3:19 to go got the Buffs within a point, and two free throws from Simpson with 2:04 to play gave CU its first lead since the O’Brien 3-point play in the first half.

Stanford recaptured the lead on a pair of Spencer Jones free throws with 1:32 remaining, but Simpson again put the Buffs in front on a baseline drive. After Lawson Lovering helped force a miss in the lane from the Cardinal’s James Keefe, Simpson collected the rebound and added two more free throws with 3.2 seconds remaining to ice the win.

“That’s just the player I am. Especially the player I’ve grown to be,” Simpson said. “I’ve worked on that. I want to take over the game. I want to do what I can to help this team win. I just had to do what we had to do to win. I just had to block everything and just go and put the team on my back. Everybody else stepped up really big. It wasn’t just the things I did. It was the team.”

The Buffs had plenty working against them throughout the contest. Stanford shot 50% in the first half and finished 22-for-26 at the free throw line. Jones, mired in a shooting slump all season, broke loose for 25 points. Stanford posted a 17-8 advantage on second chance points, and the Buffs received a combined 10 points and six rebounds from starting forwards J’Vonne Hadley and Tristan da Silva.

Still, despite all of that CU found a way to win the sort of close game that escaped the Buffs several times in November and early December, and they will be in position to record a road sweep when they visit struggling Cal on Saturday.

“We weren’t playing as tough as them to start off,” Simpson said. “But once we started being the tougher team, everything started taking care of itself. It’s a testament to the team that we are. Not every win is going to be pretty, but a win is a win. It just goes to show you the toughness that we have. We have a lot of guys that can dig deep.”

Snapshot: CU Buffs at Stanford

Turning point: It wasn’t a single moment, but KJ Simpson single-handedly authored a game-closing 11-5 run for CU to ice the win.

Buff of the game: Simpson went 11-for-23 from the floor and 8-for-9 at the free throw line before finishing with a career-high 31 points. He also led the Buffs in rebounds (seven) and assists (four).

What’s next?: The Buffs will seek a Bay Area sweep on Saturday at Cal (4 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Network).

Colorado 73, Stanford 70

Colorado (9-5, 1-2)

da Silva 3-8 0-0 7, Lovering 5-6 0-1 10, Simpson 11-23 8-9 31, Hadley 1-3 1-2 3, Clifford 1-5 2-4 4, O’Brien 4-6 1-1 12, Gabbidon 0-1 0-0 0, Ruffin 0-0 0-0 0, Hammond III 2-4 1-1 6, Wright 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-56 13-18 73.

Stanford (5-8, 0-3)

S. Jones 7-16 8-8 25, Keefe 0-2 3-4 3, Angel 3-4 4-4 10, Ingram 0-5 1-2 1, O’Connell 3-6 1-2 7, M. Jones 1-6 3-4 5, Gealer 0-1 0-0 0, Raynaud 4-6 0-0 8, Murrell 0-0 0-0 0, Agarwal 3-4 0-0 9, Silva 0-1 2-2 2. Totals 21-51 22-26 70.

Halftime — Stanford 37-33. 3-point field goals — Colorado 6-16 (da Silva 1-4, Simpson 1-5, Clifford 0-2, O’Brien 3-3, Gabbidon 0-1, Hammond III 1-1); Stanford 6-18 (S. Jones 3-9, Angel 0-1, Ingram 0-2, M. Jones 0-1, Gealer 0-1, Agarwal 3-4). Rebounds — Colorado 33 (Simpson 7); Stanford 30 (S. Jones 6, Raynaud 6). Assists — Colorado 11 (Simpson 4); Stanford 8 (M. Jones 4). Total fouls — Colorado 19, Stanford 18. A — 2,640.