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Jalen Gabbidon expected to resume bigger role with CU Buffs men’s basketball

BOULDER,CO:December 15: Colorado Buffaloes' Jalen Gabbidon gets past North Alabama Lion's Will Soucie in NCAA mens basketball on December 15, 2022. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
BOULDER,CO:December 15: Colorado Buffaloes’ Jalen Gabbidon gets past North Alabama Lion’s Will Soucie in NCAA mens basketball on December 15, 2022. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Jalen Gabbidon has dealt with his share of injuries.

A series of foot problems kept him sidelined for much of his freshman season at Yale. He suffered a broken toe the next year. And there also was a sports hernia that derailed the end of his sophomore year.

So while Gabbidon was a full-time rotation player during his final two seasons at Yale, making the most of injury-spurred time on the bench wasn’t a new experience this past month. On Sunday, the senior guard returned to Colorado’s rotation following a six-game absence due to a knee injury he suffered on Dec. 29 at Stanford.

Gabbidon didn’t attempt a shot during Sunday’s win against Washington State. But he brought energetic defense to the floor in his 14-plus minutes of action, and he figures to reclaim a larger rotation role as he regains his stamina.

“From the sideline, you’re emotionally invested but I’m not really in the heat of the game. It’s easy to observe,” Gabbidon said. “We compete every single game. Anyone who says we’re not competing is just lying. There’s a few areas that we’re coming short every game, and it’s just hammering those down. Especially on the defensive side. There’s a lot of lapses we’re still having that are easily correctable with just a little bit more talk and energy and focus.

“It felt good to be back out there. I actually only practiced twice because I got cleared Thursday the day of the (Washington) game. I just tried to give what I could when I was out there.”

Gabbidon was on the sideline when the Buffs held Oregon to just 41 points — the program’s lowest mark in 13 seasons under coach Dana Altman — during a home win on Jan. 5 but he should play a bigger role in the rematch on Thursday in Eugene (7 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Network).

Gabbidon’s return, coupled with Javon Ruffin’s likely return in the near future, might give CU head coach Tad Boyle more personnel options in addressing the role of struggling wing Nique Clifford. The junior from Colorado Springs has endured an up-and-down season from the opening tip but has hit a particularly deep rut recently, going 7-for-24 (.292) over the past five games while averaging 3.4 points and 2.2 rebounds.

Clifford spent much of last season as the Buffs’ second-leading rebounder (he finished at 4.6 rpg) and completed his first season in the rotation with a .400 3-point percentage. He has grabbed four rebounds in 53 minutes over the past three games, dropping his season average to 3.6, and his 3-point percentage sits at .209 (9-for-43).

Ruffin has missed the past two games due to a knee injury and Boyle described him as “doubtful” for Thursday’s game.

“We are starting to put together what it takes to win,” Gabbidon said. “You see a lot of college basketball teams now are going through that process of understanding what they need to do to win games. We’re on that same path. We feel confident going into these last 10 games that we have that formula down.”

McDonald’s honoree

CU signee Cody Williams, who recently was elevated to the No. 8 overall recruit in the 2023 class by 247Sports, was named to the roster of the annual McDonald’s All-American game. He is the fourth CU player to receive the honor, and the third committed to the Buffs out of high school. Chauncey Billups, a former star at George Washington High in Denver, and David Harrison also were McDonald’s All-Americans, as was former CU forward Martice Moore, who began his career at Georgia Tech.