CU Buffs men’s basketball notes: Walk-on Will Loughlin awarded scholarship

KJ Simpson a bright spot at Arizona

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Colorado may have lost the sweepstakes for coveted Texas transfer Jaylon Tyson last week. Yet the Buffs opted to do a good deed while making certain that open scholarship didn’t go to waste.

Earlier this week, head coach Tad Boyle awarded walk-on Will Loughlin with that scholarship, giving the senior forward a free ride at CU for the spring semester. The Buffs have operated with 12 scholarship players, one under the limit, for the entire season after transfer guard Mason Faulkner had second thoughts over the summer and opted to relocate yet again to Louisville.

The 6-foot-9 Loughlin spent the 2019-20 season as a practice player for the CU women’s team and joined the men’s team as a walk-on ahead of the 2020-21 season. Loughlin has appeared in two games this season and three overall for the Buffs.

The Buffs nearly went into the 2019-20 season with an open scholarship, but ultimately they signed point guard Keeshawn Barthelemy at the outset of the school year. This marked the first time in Boyle’s 12 seasons he has even been in position to offer a midseason scholarship to a walk-on.

“Those are the moments as a coach that you cherish,” Boyle said. “We’ve had some great, great walk-ons in this program over the last 12 years. Great kids, and Will is one of them. Will, it’s the first time we’ve been able to do that. And I want every former walk-on to know that this is for them, too. I know they didn’t get a scholarship and Will did, but he stands on the shoulders of many guys who came before him.”

Boyle admitted it was a difficult, emotional decision in giving Loughlin the scholarship instead of Benan Ersek, a four-year player in the program. But Boyle noted that, as a big man, Loughlin mixes it up a little more aggressively at practice every day, and it didn’t hurt that Loughlin (a native of Seattle) has been paying out of state tuition while Ersek, a graduate of Kent Denver, gets in-state tuition.

Boyle also noted no one on the team was happier for Loughlin than Ersek.

“The way our team responded to that was really special, and it was honest and not staged, it was spur of the moment and genuine,” Boyle said. “Will has a little bit bigger role in our practices. He’s a big guy and he’s banging, and he’s really kind of in the mix. Will is a guy I wouldn’t be afraid to put in a game. I really wouldn’t.”

KJ responds

Perhaps the lone bright spot for the Buffs in Thursday’s 78-55 loss at No. 6 Arizona was the play of freshman guard KJ Simpson.

Simpson originally signed with UA but, after coach Sean Miller was let go following last season, Simpson ultimately landed at CU. With plenty of Wildcats fans chirping at him, Simpson responded with a season-high 17 points. His 14 points in the first half was the primary reason why the Buffs only trailed by four points at halftime.

“I was just trying to be aggressive, trying to make the right play,” Simpson said. “The crowd was crazy. It was really loud in there. I just wanted to be that spark off the bench and do whatever it took to get our guys going. It ended up working, but we fell short.

“I just kept my head. I knew I didn’t want to focus on what the crowd was saying. I knew it was going to be hyped in there.”

Simpson tallied a season-high four assists for the fifth time this season and the third time in the past four games.

Notable

Arizona finished with 20 assists, the 11th time in 14 games the Wildcats have recorded at least 20 assists CU recorded 12 assists, and the Buffs’ season high was 17 against Washington State last week…CU sophomore forward Jabari Walker was charged with four of the Buffs’ 14 turnovers…Arizona’s .509 shooting percentage was the highest mark by a CU opponent this season…The Buffs haven’t defeated a top-10 team in a true road game since an overtime win at No. 5 Missouri on Jan. 15, 1973.