Injuries and other personnel setbacks have been part of the equation for the past two months for a struggling Colorado men’s basketball team.
Despite a stirring victory on Senior Day, with the Buffaloes topping Utah 69-60 on Saturday, Colorado announced its most difficult setback yet.
Following the win, head coach Tad Boyle said starting point guard KJ Simpson will miss the upcoming Pac-12 Conference tournament after contracting mono. Simpson missed Saturday’s victory and, barring the Buffs creating a March miracle by running the table in Las Vegas, his season is over.
“He will be out of the Pac-12 tournament, unfortunately,” Boyle said. “It’s unfortunate timing. He was devastated when he found the news, as we all were. In the grand scheme of things, it can always be worse. He’s got a great attitude. I thought he was great on the bench (Saturday) with his energy. KJ is going to be OK, there’s no doubt about it. And at least it’s not something that’s going to hold him off indefinitely. It’s just going to be a couple-week thing.”
If the Buffs hope to make noise at the Pac-12 tourney — they begin play in the opening first round game on Wednesday afternoon — they likely will need Julian Hammond III to continue to thrive as a pinch-hitter. Taking over for Simpson in the starting lineup, Hammond went 5-for-5 at the free throw line and finished with 15 points, five assists, a career-high five steals and three rebounds. Hammond was charged with just one turnover in 36 minutes.
Hammond’s five assists tied a career-high. He is the first player in the Pac-12 this season to record a game with at least 15 points, five assists and five steals, and he is the first Buffs player to post those numbers since Marcus Hall, who did it exactly 15 years earlier on March 4, 2008.
“Five assists and one turnover from your point guard, you’ll take that all the time,” Boyle said. “He didn’t make threes tonight, but he’s one of our most capable shooters. He was ready when his number was called. That’s what you have to have on your bench.”
In a pregame ceremony, the Buffs said farewell to seniors Jalen Gabbidon, Ethan Wright and Cody Mains.
Wright, a graduate transfer from Princeton, enjoyed one of his finest games of the season, reaching double-figures in points (10) for just the second time this year while adding four rebounds. His consecutive 3-pointers early in the second half helped push CU’s lead to 16 points.
Gabbidon missed the previous two games due to a concussion, but knocked down his first 3-point attempt in his return. A graduate transfer from Yale, Gabbidon finished with five points and four rebounds in nearly 15 minutes of action.
“Definitely bittersweet. The feeling that comes to mind is just grateful,” said Wright, who went 2-for-6 on 3-pointers with a pair of misses that were halfway down before rattling out. “Being able to play in front of those fans, have my family out here. I’ve only been here for a year, but these guys are my brothers. I’m really close to them. They accepted me right away. It’s been a pleasure to play with them and play on this floor.”
Mains, a walk-on forward, entered the game in the waning seconds for his third appearance of the season and the fifth of his career.
Saturday’s attendance of 8,432 left CU with a final regular season attendance average of 6,752. That is the lowest average regular season attendance in 13 seasons under Boyle, erasing the previous low of 6,900 during his first season at CU in 2010-11. This year’s attendance average is the lowest since the last pre-Boyle average mark of 6,266 in 2009-10.
CU had four players score in double figures (Tristan da Silva 15, Hammond 15, Nique Clifford 14, Wright 10) for the ninth time this season but only the second time in Pac-12 play (also Jan. 12 at USC). … At 8-12 in the Pac-12, the Buffs posted their lowest conference winning percentage (.400) since 2014-15 (7-11, .389).