A shorthanded Colorado squad opened up Pac-12 play in Boulder on Friday evening against the Washington Huskies. Despite being without four key players in their rotation, the Buffaloes managed to grit out an exciting 73-69 win over the Dawgs.
The Buffaloes were seemingly overwhelmed by injuries going into Friday evening’s game. Tristan da Silva, Cody Simpson, Bangot Dak and RJ Smith were all inactive for Colorado for various reasons.
Da Silva seemingly sprained his ankle in a non-contact accident during practice on Thursday and was unable to play against Washington. Cody Williams has been battling a nagging wrist injury for the past couple of weeks and is recovering. Dak missed Friday’s game due to illness, but will likely be back with the team on Sunday when they play Wazzu. RJ Smith unfortunately injured his lower-leg earlier in the season. Tad Boyle confirmed that Smith won’t return until next season and will apply for a medical redshirt after the end of March.
The injuries led to Tad having to get a bit creative with the rotation going into the game. As expected, Luke O’Brien got the start in place of the injured Williams. Tad also decided to call on Julian Hammond to fill in for da Silva. These moves don’t come as a big shock, as LOB and Hammond have been CU’s go-to bench guys so far this season. In more surprising move, Harrison Carrington was called upon as the first man off the bench, as the walk-on played 17 minutes.
Both sides came out of the gates a bit sloppy, as there were a couple of ugly Colorado turnovers and Washington missed layups. After the first five minutes of play, the score settled at 12-12. Washington’s Koren Johnson hit a three to give Washington a 15-12, which prompted Colorado to turn on the ignition. The Buffs proceed to go on a 12-2 run, fueled by 8 KJ Simpson points. Washington then went on a 7-0 run of their own to close the gap a bit. After trading even more blows to close the half out, the Buffs went to the locker room with a 32-26 lead.
Washington finished the half shooting only 28% from the field and 29% from three. This low shooting percentage was largely due to Colorado contesting shots and giving the Huskies little room to breathe. Washington also flat out missed their few open shots. Colorado came up with 28 boards in the first half alone, which set the tone physically and helped them overcome their own scoring issues.
To start the second half, Colorado started to slow a bit. The Buffs were clearly exhausted after playing such heavy minutes and allowed Washington to make a run at the game. The Huskies went on a 9-0 run to give themselves a 63-56 lead with less than five minutes left in the game. It felt like Colorado once again let a winnable game slip from their grasp, but something (namely, J’Vonne Hadley) snapped.
The tide turned when Hadley absolutely YAMMED on
Nebraska’s Washington’s Wilhelm Breidenbach. The lid on the CUEC exploded. That energy led to an onslaught of Colorado scoring. After Hadley’s dunk, Colorado outscored the Huskies 13-6 down the stretch. Despite the odds and being down four men, the Buffs squeaked out one of their most impressive wins in years considering the circumstances.
Once again, KJ Simpson paved the way for Colorado’s victory. The Buffaloes’ point guard is playing on an entirely different level in 2023 and continued his All-American caliber season on Friday night. Simpson had to play over 39 minutes due to Colorado’s lack of guard depth. Despite his immense workload, KJ didn’t even look exhausted.
Simpson finished the game with 21 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists. Friday’s win was KJ’s second double-double of his college career, with the other being last season’s win over Tennessee. Simpson was the engine that led to this statement win and has cemented himself as a bona fide star. According to Tad, nobody in the Pac-12 matches KJ’s level at point guard.
“Looking at the numbers, [KJ] is the best point in the Pac-12 and it’s not even close. It’s not even up for debate in my mind,” said Tad. “I think he’s one of the best in the country. Top 10 point guard in country without a doubt.”
Eddie Lampkin also played a massive role in Colorado’s victory, finishing Friday night with his third straight double-double. Lampkin has been on an absolute tear as his massive frame and willingness to pass creates so many possibilities for the Buffs’ offense. The Huskies opted to challenge Eddie one on one, which unsurprisingly didn’t work out too for them. Lampkin outdawged the Dawgs, as he put up 17 points and 12 rebounds, along with a blocked dunk just for good measure. Lampkin has exceed expectations since arriving in Boulder from TCU this season and his energy is contagious. Buffs Nation has found their new fan-favorite.
A surprise contributor also debuted in this game, as Javon Ruffin made his return to the team. Ruffin had surgery to repair an injured knee over the summer and was expected to miss the entire 2023-24 season. Last week, rumblings started to emerge that we’d see Ruffin sooner than we initially thought. On Thursday, Tad told the media that we wouldn’t see Ruffin this weekend but maybe sometime in the coming weeks. Welp, Tad lied. Ruffin played 7 minutes in Colorado’s win, which helped give Luke O’Brien and Julian Hammond a quick breather on the bench. Ruffin finished the game with 2 rebounds, as he is currently working himself back to 100% health.
Washington State is the next squad to have the privilege to come and challenge the Buffs at home, as the two teams will face off on Sunday at noon. The Buffs will likely still be without Williams and da Silva, but Friday’s win proved that anything is possible with this team. Colorado is now undefeated in conference play and looks to keep it that way against the Cougs.