Game day notes: Familiar face with unfamiliar foe again takes on CU Buffs men’s basketball

Freshman Lawson Lovering looks to bounce back

Colorado sophomore Nique Clifford will aim for another strong showing during Saturday afternoon’s home battle against New Mexico. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
Colorado sophomore Nique Clifford will aim for another strong showing during Saturday afternoon’s home battle against New Mexico. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
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During the preseason, the Colorado men’s basketball team played an exhibition match at Nebraska, marking the foes’ first matchup since the Buffaloes left the Big 12 Conference a decade ago.

In the season opener against Montana State, the Buffaloes squared off against a program they’ve faced only four times since 1930.

On Saturday afternoon the Buffs host New Mexico (4:30 p.m., Pac-12 Mountain), a slightly more familiar foe though one CU hasn’t played since Dec. 11, 2018.

Yet each of those unfamiliar foes has brought players to the mix well acquainted with the Buffs. That trend continues on Saturday as former Arizona State guard Jaelen House returns to the CU Events Center with his new team, the Lobos.

House enjoyed a solid game at CU for the Sun Devils in the 2020-21 regular season finale in March, going 5-for-7 overall and 3-for-5 on 3-pointers while recording 13 points, three assists, and two steals.

House was explosive in his debut with New Mexico, going 10-for-19 with 30 points, six assists, and two steals to pace a 99-92 win on Wednesday against Florida Atlantic.

In the preseason game at Nebraska, the Buffs crossed paths with one of House’s former ASU backcourt mates, Alonzo Verge. During the opener, CU faced a Montana State team that brought former Washington guard RaeQuan Battle off the bench.

“It’s kind of like when we went to Nebraska. We don’t know anybody, but oh, they’ve got Verge,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “And now, New Mexico, yeah, we don’t know anybody. But they’ve got Jaelen House. We coached against him for two years and are very familiar with his game. He had 30 (in the opener). He’s very aggressive player offensively, and he’s kind of a pest defensively. They’ve got some talented guys.”

Showdown

CU sophomore wing Nique Clifford might go through an emotional day during the Buffs’ battle against New Mexico.

His childhood best friend, fellow Colorado Springs native and New Mexico reserve Javonte Johnson, will be on the other bench, with a number of family members and mutual friends expected to fill the crowd. However, after his solid debut off the bench as the Buffs’ sixth man, Clifford is trying to focus more on his own adjustments and improvements than the emotional reunion.

“I think I did a decent job rebounding, but I could be in better spots defensively,” Clifford said. “Just watching film, I’m learning a lot about being in better position defensively.”

Clifford posted 11 points, nine rebounds, and two steals in 35 minutes during the win against Montana State.

A foul debut

Freshman Lawson Lovering might not harbor fond memories of his first official game as a Buffalo.

The 7-foot-1 freshman out of Wyoming recorded his first career points on a 3-point play with 11 minutes, 34 seconds remaining in the game. However, Lovering got himself into foul trouble early, and just 1:34 after those career-opening points, Lovering was out of the game with his fifth foul.

Lovering hardly is the first rookie to battle foul trouble early in his freshman season. It happened to current fifth-year senior Evan Battey during his first year on the floor. And it happened to sophomore Jabari Walker last year. Figuring out how the collegiate game is called, combined with adjusting to the higher caliber athlete at the Division I level, will be an ongoing process for Lovering.

“He’s just got to stay away from the silly, ticky-tack fouls,” Boyle said. “As big guys, you’re going to get tough calls. It’s just the nature of it. I think it’s just knowledge of how the game is called and staying away from the silly ones. And slowing down when he gets the ball. That’s the biggest thing with young big guys. They want to go too fast.”

Sharp threads

During the fan-less COVID season of 2020-21, coaches across the country ditched their traditional, business-formal suits for more reserved team apparel.

Many coaches have remained in a more casual mode with team gear this season, but Boyle isn’t one of them. While he gave his staff the option of going back to suits or staying in team gear, Boyle gladly dug his suits out of the closet, believing the attire is a small part of the 2021-22 campaign’s return to normalcy.

“I guess I’m more of a traditionalist,” Boyle said. “Certainly the casual is more comfortable as a coach, but you only get 31 of these games. They’re special opportunities. So on special occasions, I try to dress up a little bit. And to me, quite frankly, I want COVID to be behind us, and that’s one way to say it. It’s always going to be with us, we know that, but this is one way to get back to normal.”

Notable

New Mexico’s Jamal Mashburn Jr. is the son of former NBA veteran Jamal Mashburn. A collegiate star at Kentucky, the elder Mashburn averaged 19.1 points during an 11-year NBA career…New Mexico first-year coach Richard Pitino led Minnesota to a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances and an NIT championship during his eight seasons with the Golden Gophers…CU is 77-5 in nonconference home games under Boyle…Former Buffs guard Daylen Kountz has enjoyed a torrid start to his second season with Northern Colorado. In the opener of the Rainbow Classic in Honolulu during a win against Pacific, Kountz went 11-for-17 with 22 points and six rebounds. The Denver East alum followed that by leading a win against Hawaii with a 7-for-12 showing with 21 points and four assists. UNC completes the tournament Saturday night against Hawaii-Hilo.