CU basketball fans were on one crazy emotional roller coaster last weekend.
Colorado’s early season road trip got off to a rough start on Friday night against Grambling. Just over five minutes into the first half the Buffs were down 15-6 and the Grambling State Tigers maintained that cushion until the final buzzer.
It was a disappointing 83-74 loss where Colorado struggled to find a rhythm and shot themselves in the foot with turnovers. Come Sunday afternoon, the Grambling game was an afterthought.
The Buffs’ 78-66 upset win over the 11th-ranked Tennessee Volunteers on Sunday was the first time CU had beaten a ranked team away from Boulder in three years.
The highs were high and the lows were low but here are three takeaways that summed up the weekend.
Tad’s “message” was received
On Friday night against Grambling, Colorado’s slow start and turnovers had them playing catch-up from the opening minutes. In response to his team’s sluggish first half on Friday, head coach Tad Boyle decided to bench KJ Simpson, J’Vonne Hadley, Nique Clifford and Tristan da Silva on Sunday.
In their place, Boyle started Javon Ruffin, Ethan Wright, Jalen Gabbidon and Luke O’Brien instead with Lawson Lovering being the only player to start all three games this year.
Rather than start with his young talented core, Boyle opted for the experience that both graduate transfers, Jalen Gabbidon and Ethan Wright, brought to the table instead.
Gabbidon and Wright made the first three baskets of the game for CU on Sunday and provided great energy on the defensive side of the floor.
When the usual starters entered the game they were noticeably calmer and more in control than they were on Friday night. That resulted in big games for Simpson and da Silva.
Da Silva scored a season-high 14 points and hit two of his three three-point field goal attempts. Both of his made three-pointers came in the second half and put the game out of reach for the Volunteers.
But what KJ Simpson did was special.
Was Sunday the start of KJ Simpson’s arrival?
KJ Simpson tapped into his potential in spurts last year. Sunday afternoon was the first time we saw the ceiling of that potential.
Against Tennessee, Simpson charted his first career double-double with 23 points and 10 rebounds. Both are career highs for Simpson.
One of this season’s more important storylines for Colorado basketball is who would step up and be “the guy” for the Buffs this year without Evan Battey and Jabari Walker.
Simpson is now the early-season leader to earn that role after his performance in Nashville.
Perhaps we should have had a suspicion that Simpson was close to going off as he was the leading scorer for the Buffs on Friday night in the struggle against Grambling.
After having four turnovers in the season opener against UC Riverside, Simpson cleaned up his game and only had four turnovers combined against Grambling and Tennessee.
With the Myrtle Beach Invitational coming up, Simpson will have even more opportunities to impress against non-conference talent later this week.
Ethan Wright makes a statement
In the season opener against UC Riverside and on Friday against Grambling, transfers Jalen Gabbidon and J’Vonne Hadley had impressed early in their Buffs’ careers. On Sunday against Tennessee, CU’s third incoming transfer, Ethan Wright, had his moment and provided a veteran spark.
In the season’s first two games, Wright only had a combined seven points. He had eight points against Tennessee and also added one rebound, one assist, two steals and a block to his stat line.
Wright’s block was pure-hustle as he chased down Tennessee’s Tyreke Key and blocked the ball off the glass.
The Princeton transfer is only listed at 6-foot-3, 190-pounds but he plays with fearless energy that often results in Wright making gritty plays on defense and under the rim on both sides of the floor.
At Princeton, Wright was a sharpshooter as he hit 39.5% of his three-pointers during the 2021-2022 season but he looks to be much more than that for Colorado.
Coming into Sunday, Wright had yet to hit a three-pointer for the Buffs but he ended up hitting two of his four attempts behind the arc against the Volunteers.