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Cal rematch a chance to start making amends for Colorado men’s basketball

Colorado guard J'Vonne Hadley (13) is defended by Tennessee guard Josiah-Jordan James (30) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Colorado guard J’Vonne Hadley (13) is defended by Tennessee guard Josiah-Jordan James (30) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/John Amis)

Some losses, even the bad ones, sometimes grow more palatable over time. The one suffered in Berkeley on New Year’s Eve by the Colorado men’s basketball team isn’t one of them.

In a season riddled with disappointing defeats, none stand out more than the Buffaloes’ 80-76 loss on a rainy Saturday at California. In some ways the Buffs have never recovered. A home sweep against the Oregon schools the following week was negated by the Buffs’ 0-2 trip through Oregon last weekend, giving CU losses in five of the past six games going into a Thursday night rematch against the Golden Bears at the Events Center.

At 4-8 in the Pac-12, CU has matched its worst 12-game start in conference play since joining the league in 2011-12. (The Buffs also started 4-8 in 2016-17). Whatever fleeting hopes remain for the Buffs to piece together a February run all but requires a win against Cal in the rematch.

“I’ve had to watch the Cal game three times now, which has been really painful,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “I had to watch it live. I had to watch it after we played. And I had to watch it again before we play them a second time. Each time, we get worse and worse and worse.

“We were a bad basketball team in Berkeley the night we played them. Bad offensively. Bad defensively. I didn’t even recognize our team. The most poorly-coached, poorly-executing team I’ve seen in a long, long time.”

The Bears owned a 1-13 mark when they hosted a Buffs team coming off a road win at Stanford that gave them a five-game winning streak. That momentum dissolved in a hurry, as the Bears posted what at the time was their top scoring mark of the season as well as their top field goal percentage (.580). Oddly, Cal topped both marks in their next game, scoring 92 points while shooting .593 in a home win against Stanford, but the Bears have lost five consecutive games since.

The .580 mark recorded by Cal in Berkeley remains the top shooting percentage by a CU opponent this season. The Bears also posted the top 3-point percentage by a Buffs foe this season (.538, 7-for-13).

The final score was respectable only because a wild KJ Simpson-led rally chewed up much of the 21-point lead Cal held with less than five minutes remaining. One of the weaker rebounding teams in the Pac-12 — Cal enters Thursday’s game ranked ninth in league games with an average rebound margin of minus-3.2 — the Bears posted a 36-23 rebounding advantage that can’t be entirely explained by Cal’s lack of misses offensively. Cal had 21 missed field goals and still recorded 10 offensive rebounds.

The Buffs hit the rematch trying to shake off another low point, coming off a 60-52 loss at Oregon State.  Colorado generally has played well at home, though the recent slide includes a home loss against Washington, and the Buffs have won their past five home games against the Bears. Still, the loss at Cal that gave CU the cruelest of New Year’s hangovers serves as a stark reminder the Buffs aren’t nearly polished enough to assume victory against anyone without bringing their A-game.

“I think all of us have a little edge to us right now,” CU forward J’Vonne Hadley said. “We’ve been practicing as hard as we’ve practiced since I’ve been here. We’re just going to go out there and hopefully it translates to the game. But I have no question that we’re going to be hungry.”

California Golden Bears at CU Buffs men’s basketball

TIPOFF: Thursday, 8 p.m., CU Events Center.

TV/RADIO: TV — Pac-12 Network. Radio — KOA 850 AM and 94.1 FM.

RECORDS: Cal 3-18, 2-8 Pac-12; Colorado 12-11, 4-8.

COACHES: Cal — Mark Fox, 4th season (38-76, 324-252 overall). Colorado — Tad Boyle, 13th season (266-166, 322-232 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Cal — G Devin Askew, 6-3, Jr. (15.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.0 apg); C Lars Thiemann, 7-1, Sr., (10.5, 6.0 rpg, .515 field goal percentage); G DeJuan Clayton, 6-2, Gr. (9.6 ppg, .400 3-point percentage); F Kuany Kuany, 6-9, Sr. (9.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg). Colorado — G KJ Simpson, 6-2, So. (16.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.7 apg); F Tristan da Silva, 6-9, Jr. (16.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, .520 field goal percentage); F J’Vonne Hadley, 6-6, Jr. (8.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg, .525 field goal percentage); G Nique Clifford, 6-6, Jr. (6.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg).

NOTES: CU reserve guard Javon Ruffin could be closer to a return after missing the past four games due to a knee injury. “He’s practiced two days now. He was better (Wednesday) than he was (Tuesday),” Boyle said following Wednesday’s practice. “He’s getting a little better, so we’ll see.”…The Buffs went 7-for-26 on 3-pointers during  the Dec. 31 loss in Berkeley. Simpson and Ruffin were a combined 6-for-15, but the rest of the team went 1-for-11…Cal played without Askew when it beat the Buffs at home, and the guard has missed six of the past seven games. Askew returned two games ago against Oregon State but was sidelined again for last week’s loss at Stanford…Hadley scored a season-high 17 points in CU’s loss at Cal, going 8-for-11 from the field with four rebounds…In conference games, Cal (.703) and CU (.682) have posted the two lowest free throw percentages in the Pac-12…CU’s home series continues on Sunday against Stanford (5 p.m., FS1).