Resurgent Nique Clifford critical to CU Buffs’ Vegas odds at Pac-12 men’s basketball tourney
7th March 2023

Tad Boyle wasn’t happy seeing Nique Clifford get shut out on the boards last week against USC and told him so.

Clifford agreed. And set out to do something about it.

The versatile wing from Colorado Springs responded with two of the top rebounding games of his career and also posted his first double-double during Saturday’s victory against Utah in the regular season finale.

In many ways, Clifford’s season personally has served as a microcosm for the entire Buffs team. There have been tantalizing glimpses of potential. Just not nearly enough of them.

Given the postgame announcement that starting point guard KJ Simpson will miss the Pac-12 Conference tournament after contracting mono, a continued resurgence from Clifford might be critical to the Buffs’ efforts to keep their season alive this week in Las Vegas. Ninth-seeded CU will tip off the conference tournament against Washington in the opening game of the first round on Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena (1 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Network).

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“A few games ago I had zero rebounds and that was something the coaches stressed to me. I’ve got to be a better rebounder,” Clifford said. “I agreed with them. I’ve got to be better on the boards. I took that personally and tried to get some more rebounds for the team. That’s something I’ve got to keep doing for us. As a collective group, we’ve got to be a team that rebounds. Especially going into this tournament.”

Clifford spent much of last season as CU’s second-leading rebounder while posting a .400 mark from 3-point range (.453 overall). He has struggled on both fronts this season, and his zero-rebound outing in 29 minutes during a Feb. 23 loss against USC dropped his season rebounding average to 3.4 per game (down from 4.6 last year). His 0-for-3 mark that night from the arc dropped his season 3-point percentage to .270.

Clifford still couldn’t find the range three days later against UCLA (1-for-7 overall, 1-for-3 3-pointers), but he matched a career-high for the fourth time with nine rebounds. Clifford was even better against Utah, going 5-for-8 overall and 2-for-3 from the arc while finishing with 14 points and a career-best 11 rebounds. Clifford suffered three turnovers in the first four-plus minutes but didn’t have another the rest of the way.

“He was terrific (against Utah) rebounding the basketball for us. And he made some plays off the dribble,” Boyle said. “Nique’s getting better. Especially with KJ being out now, Nique’s an important factor. Nique was terrific, defensively and rebounding the basketball for us.”

Washington swept the regular season series against the Buffs, but the two decisions were by a combined 13 points. After making the rare decision to utilize a zone defense almost exclusively against Utah to great success, Boyle and the Buffs will be tasked with finding a way to solve a Huskies zone defense that held CU to a combined 8-for-36 from the 3-point line in the teams’ two matchups.

“The one thing about Washington is they’ve got very talented players and they’re very capable,” Boyle said. “We haven’t beaten them. Washington State’s probably playing better than Washington right now. We beat Washington State but we couldn’t beat Washington.

“We’re going to need to move the ball like we did (against Utah) and play inside-out like we did, and share the ball, and make shots. We do that, we’ll give ourselves a chance. We’ll see about the defensive game plan as we turn the page.”

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