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Colorado men’s basketball looks to small goals in hopes of ending slide against WSU

Colorado's Tristan da Silva gets past the Washington Huskies' Braxton Meah Thursday night in Boulder. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
Colorado’s Tristan da Silva gets past the Washington Huskies’ Braxton Meah Thursday night in Boulder. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Do your job.

With the postseason hopes of the Colorado men’s basketball team teetering on the brink amid a three-game losing streak, the Buffaloes’ struggles have originated from plenty of sources. Tops among them, however, has been the inattention to detail that has led CU to suffer a glut of turnovers one night, only to struggle defensively the next night.

Going into Sunday’s home date against Washington State, head coach Tad Boyle and his staff have tried to instill a tunnel vision-like approach with narrow focus. Don’t worry about the score. Don’t worry about playing time. Just focus on the assignment during each and every play.

“We have fight. We have toughness. We always have that ability to claw back,” CU point guard KJ Simpson said. “But we look up at the score and it kind of dictates our play sometimes. If we’re up, we’re getting stops and the energy’s there. We usually end up winning.

“It’s those games when the other team is able to respond and go on a run and we look up and our lead is cut down. Then our energy and our fight isn’t there as it should be. I feel what coach is saying. Just do your job. Don’t focus on the score. Don’t focus on the winning or losing, and the result will take care of itself.”

After committing a whopping 45 turnovers combined during a in a pair of losses last week in Los Angeles, the Buffs returned home for a loss on Thursday against Washington in which the turnover issue was addressed (13) while a defense that had played well in recent weeks allowed the Huskies to shoot .636 in the second half

Early this past week, Boyle described the shortcomings of his team like a failing dam. When one hole is plugged, something else inevitably springs loose. By focusing on smaller goals, the Buffs hope to finally shore up that foundation.

“What we’ve really tried to stress the past couple days is just do your job to the best of your ability,” Boyle said. “You’re not worrying about winning games. You’re not worried about losing games. You’re not worrying about anything that’s out of your control. It’s the middle of January, getting towards the end of January. These guys know what their job is. We’ve just got to go do it.”

Boyle indicated reinforcements might be on the way with possible returns to the rotation from injured guards Jalen Gabbidon and Javon Ruffin.

Gabbidon has missed the past six games due to a knee injury he suffered on Dec. 29 at Stanford. He returned to practice this week and dressed for Thursday’s loss against UW but didn’t play. Ruffin posted two of his four double-digit scoring games of the season during the two losses in Los Angeles last week, but he missed the UW game due to a minor knee injury suffered at practice earlier this week.

Ruffin has been one of the Buffs’ most consistent 3-point threats, owning a .365 mark from the arc, and his return could give a boost to a CU team that went 3-for-19 on 3-pointers against Washington.

Boyle said he was “hopeful” about Gabbidon’s return and “cautiously optimistic” about Ruffin.

Regardless, the Buffs are running out of time to make a run within the Pac-12 Conference, but doing so certainly wouldn’t be without precedent. About one year ago the Buffs suffered a similar three-game losing streak that left CU at 5-7 in the Pac-12. Yet CU was able to respond with wins in eight of the next nine games.

“I feel like this team is real similar to last year’s team. Kind of the same mindset,” Simpson said. “Being able to have that experience with last year’s team to understand what we talked about and what happened, and the things that needed to happen to make that run, I think it will help. I feel like now is the time. Our mindset is still positive and we just want to win.”

Washington State Cougars at CU Buffs men’s basketball

TIPOFF: Sunday, 4 p.m., CU Events Center.

TV/RADIO: TV — ESPNU. Radio — KOA 850 AM and 94.1 FM.

RECORDS: Washington State 9-11, 4-5 Pac-12 Conference; Colorado 11-9, 3-6.

COACHES: Washington State — Kyle Smith, 4th season (61-55, 225-177 overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 13th season (265-164, 321-230 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Washington State — G TJ Bamba, 6-5, Jr. (15.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, .364 3-point percentage); F Mouhamed Gueye, 6-11, So. (14.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg); G Jabe Mullins, 6-6, Jr. (11.2 ppg, .482 3-point percentage); G Justin Powell, 6-6, Jr. (10.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.0 apg); F DJ Rodman, 6-6, Sr. (9.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg). Colorado — G KJ Simpson, 6-2, So. (17.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.8 apg); F Tristan da Silva, 6-9, Jr. (14.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg, .507 field goal percentage); F J’Vonne Hadley, 6-6, Jr. (8.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg, .516 field goal percentage); G Julian Hammond III, 6-3, So. (6.7 ppg, 2.0 apg, .348 3-point percentage).

NOTES: CU is 11-0 all-time at home against the Cougars…The Buffs are trying to avoid their first four-game losing streak since dropping the final five games of the 2019-20 season…WSU has played the past three games without Bamba, who is dealing with a hand injury. Bamba didn’t play during the Cougars’ loss on Thursday at Utah, but prior to the trip Smith told reporters “I think we might see him this week.”… Going into Saturday’s play across the Pac-12, the Cougars led the Pac-12 with a .364 3-point percentage…WSU had won three consecutive games, including a road win at Arizona, before losing on Thursday at Utah…Rodman is shooting .393 on 3-pointers and has gone 22-for-41 (.537) from long range over the past seven games…The Buffs will go back on the road for the two-game trip through Oregon, beginning with a Thursday night matchup against the Oregon Ducks (7 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Network).