TEMPE, Ariz. — Javon Ruffin isn’t quite ready to ditch the knee brace. Yet if his performance at Arizona State is any indication, that time may arrive soon.
Ruffin finally regained the form he had been flashing before an injury absence last month, coming alive in dramatic and timely fashion to help the Colorado men’s basketball end a six-game road losing streak at Arizona State on Thursday night.
The challenge for Ruffin and the Buffs will be much more difficult on Saturday, as CU takes its lone shot of the regular season at No. 8 Arizona, where the Buffs have gone 0-10 since joining the Pac-12 Conference.
“It felt great. It’s good to help the team in any way,” Ruffin said. “I feel like I’m able to do more. We knew what happened last game (against ASU) when we let them back into it and let them win by one, and we knew we weren’t trying to do that again. We came out and we knew that we had to take care of business the whole game. There wasn’t going to be a letdown like last time.
“I’m definitely getting better every day. Each week I feel better. I wish my body was 100% right now, but it’s plenty good enough for me to get out there and make a difference.”
It was a rough January for Ruffin physically, just as he was making a push for a bigger role in CU’s rotation.
Ruffin played the Buffs’ two games in Los Angeles five weeks ago with a face mask after suffering fractured nose. Following that series Ruffin, who missed all of last season due to a knee injury, tweaked his knee again and missed four games.
Ruffin returned for the Feb. 2 home win against California but had struggled to regain his pre-injury form. One of the few Buffs outside of Tristan da Silva who has performed consistently from 3-point range this season, Ruffin went 0-for-4 from long range in three games before coming alive at crunch time in the 67-59 win at Arizona State.
Ruffin missed his first two 3-point attempts on Thursday but connected early in the Buffs’ game-closing 17-3 run at ASU. Ruffin (eight) and da Silva (12) combined to score the Buffs’ final 20 points. Playing in front of a sizeable group of friends and family members in Tempe, Ruffin also finished with a career-high seven rebounds — one more than he grabbed in the previous three games combined since his return — and recorded a team-high rating of plus-16.
“With Javon, every day is just a little bit better than the day before,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “I look forward to the day that brace is not on his knee and he’s playing free and easy. He’s not there yet, which is OK. I look at Javon Ruffin as a true freshman. I know he redshirted last year, but he played with really good poise (at ASU). He’s a guy that’s got the ultimate confidence in his jump shot. Which is what we need.”
While the Buffs were able to harass the perimeter-oriented attack of ASU, holding the Sun Devils to an 8-for-29 mark on 3-pointers and a .333 shooting percentage in the second half, it will be a much different challenge at UA. CU was able to survive early foul trouble from a front court thin on depth against ASU, but a similar scenario will cause a major headache against a powerful Arizona front line led by 6-foot-11 Pac-12 player of the year candidate Azuolas Tubelis and the 7-foot Oumar Ballo.
“Tucson is going to be a different animal. We know that,” Boyle said. “It’s just a different set of challenges. The interior with Ballo and Tubelis. Tubelis should be in the player of the year (conversation) nationally, in my opinion, with the kind of year he’s having. He’s a terrific player, and they’ve got guards who can make shots. It’s going to be a different set of challenges than Arizona State. We got (ASU), which is nice. Now we can go down there and let it all hang out and see what happens on Saturday.”
CU Buffs men’s basketball at Arizona Wildcats
TIPOFF: Saturday, 6 p.m. MT, McKale Center, Tucson, Ariz.
TV/RADIO: TV — ESPN2. Radio — KOA 850 AM and 94.1 FM.
RECORDS: Colorado 15-12, 7-9 Pac-12 Conference; Arizona 23-4, 12-4.
COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 13th season (269-167, 325-233 overall). Arizona — Tommy Lloyd, 2nd season (56-8 at UA and overall).
KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — F Tristan da Silva, 6-9, Jr. (16.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg, .515 FG%, .420 3%); G KJ Simpson, 6-2, So. (16.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.7 apg); G Julian Hammond III, 6-3, So. (6.3 ppg, 2.0 rpg); F Luke O’Brien, 6-8, Jr. (5.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg). Arizona — F Azuolas Tubelis, 6-11, Jr. (19.9 ppg, 9.3 rpg, .574 FG%); F Oumar Ballo, 7-0, R-Jr. (14.5 ppg, 8.8 rpg, .656 FG%); G Kerr Kriisa, 6-3, Jr. (10.8 ppg, 5.6 apg, .373 3%); G Courtney Ramey, 6-3, Gr. (10.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.6 apg); G Pelle Larson, 6-5, Jr. (10.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg).
NOTES: CU’s prized 2023 recruit Cody Williams will be part of the 13-player roster representing the U.S. at the 24th Nike Hoops Summit on April 8 in Portland. … Simpson, who was an Arizona recruit before a coaching change led him to shift gears and head to CU, enjoyed a big game at UA last year, recording 17 points, four assists and three rebounds. … Thursday’s win at ASU was Boyle’s 325th as a head coach, including four seasons at Northern Colorado. … The Wildcats rebounded from last week’s loss at Stanford to top Utah 88-62 at home on Thursday. UA held the Utes to a .322 shooting percentage while Kriisa paced the offense, going 4-for-4 on 3-pointers before finishing with 17 points and six assists. … The Buffs complete the regular season with three consecutive home games, beginning Thursday against USC (7 p.m., ESPN2).