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Inspired to keep career going, Jalen Gabbidon coming through for CU Buffs MBB

BOULDER,CO: March 14:Colorado Buffaloes' Jalen Gabbidon goes up to block the shot of Seton Hall Pirates' Tyrese Samuel on March 14, 2023.(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
BOULDER,CO: March 14:Colorado Buffaloes’ Jalen Gabbidon goes up to block the shot of Seton Hall Pirates’ Tyrese Samuel on March 14, 2023.(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

“Go Princeton!”

These words weren’t uttered by Ethan Wright, the resident Princeton transfer for the Colorado men’s basketball team. They came from Jalen Gabbidon, who for years was Wright’s heated rival at Yale.

On Thursday, Princeton pulled off the shocker of the opening day of the NCAA Tournament, knocking off Pac-12 Conference tournament champion and second-seeded Arizona. Besides Wright and other Princeton alums, no one in the entire state of Colorado might have been happier for the Tigers than their former rival Gabbidon, now teammates and roommates with Wright in Boulder.

“I want that league to be well-represented,” Gabbidon said. “I know through Ethan there’s good guys down there and they work hard on their games. I’m all for Princeton right now. But that’s the only time you’ll ever hear me say that.”

Wright was a force for the Buffaloes during their NIT first-round win against Seton Hall on Tuesday, hitting four 3-pointers with a season-high 18 points. Yet Gabbidon, in his lone season at CU, also has enjoyed his most consistent stretch since November, and it’s a run he looks to continue when the Buffs host Utah Valley in an NIT second-round matchup on Sunday night (7:30 p.m., ESPNU).

“I started the year really strong, but then as injuries and nagging things came about, I saw ups and downs,” Gabbidon said. “When I went down with a concussion, that was definitely a negative in some ways, but it also was a positive. I was able to help get my body a little bit more back on track. I feel great. The body feels good. I’m moving out there. Looking forward to continuing to have a great stretch.

“This is it. I’m going to put everything out there. If I have a rough shooting day, so be it. I’m going to do everything I can with the time on the floor — grabbing boards, playing defense, trying to get other guys shots. Just doing anything I can to win games. That’s all that matters.”

Until the Pac-12 Conference tournament, Gabbidon had not scored in double figures since the first two games of the season. And he had not hit two 3-pointers in a game since a Nov. 18 rout of Texas A&M. That changed during CU’s quarterfinal loss against UCLA last week, as Gabbidon went 5-for-5 overall and 2-for-2 on 3-pointers.

Gabbidon went just 2-for-5 off the bench against Seton Hall, but he matched a season-high with five rebounds — he also had five on Dec. 15 against Northern Alabama and on Nov. 27 against his old friends from Yale — and matched a season-high with three assists. Gabbidon also had three assists last week against UCLA, and against Seton Hall he delivered his final assist to Julian Hammond III for the winning bucket with 20.6 seconds remaining.

Health struggles have conspired against Gabbidon in his one season in Boulder. He missed six games after suffering a knee injury at Stanford on Dec. 29, and then missed two late February games due to a concussion. Yet with the end of his career, and the end of the Buffs’ season, in the balance, a fully healthy Gabbidon is focused on keeping his time at Colorado going as long as possible.

“It’s my last hurrah in college basketball,” Gabbidon said. “I’ve been in it a long time now. Senior Night was an emotional night for me that kind of put in perspective for me. Going into the Pac-12 tournament, that’s it. Play every game like it’s your last, because we didn’t even know if the NIT would happen. I’ve just been putting everything I have out there, every single game.”