A duo of upperclassmen will lead the Buffs at defensive back, but many freshmen will see significant playing time

Head coach Mel Tucker knows how important it is to have a solid secondary. Despite the apparent lack of experience at the defensive back position, Tucker is confident in the leadership ability of his few upperclassmen cornerbacks. He spoke after practice last week about senior Delrick Abrams Jr. ability to guide the younger players and respond to coaching.

“Delrick, he’s like an old guy around here, even though he’s a youngster in my mind,” Tucker said. “He understands what it’s all about. He helps the younger guys. You’re able to coach him hard—if you can coach your best players hard and they respond, it makes it easier to coach the younger players. He really takes coaching,” Tucker said.

Tucker went on to speak about Abrams as well as junior Mekhi Blackmon. The upperclassmen duo has been a pleasure to coach according to Tucker, and they are both improving because of their ability to take coaching and apply what they learn.

“Mekhi is starting to follow his (Abrams) lead,” Tucker said. “Those are two really fun players to coach. They seem to enjoy getting coached and are starting to apply what we tell them, and that’s why they’re getting better.”

Tucker and the Buffs will need Abrams, Blackmon, as well as sophomore Chris Miller to step up and lead this relatively inexperienced group. Being able to take and utilize coaching is a key component in Tucker’s mind because it allows his staff to have an impact on both the upperclassmen and the younger players.

“A big part of being a leader is being coachable as a leader,” Tucker said. “That makes it easier to coach the rest of the guys.”

When asked about the most important thing you have to do when trying to lead younger guys, Abrams said it’s vital to keep them upbeat and confident.

“[You’re going to] face adversity…,” Abrams said. “We’re just trying to keep everybody positive.”

Abrams and Miller are very close. The senior cornerback talked about what it’s like to have Miller back playing football after he missed spring ball because of shoulder surgery.

“It feels good to have him back out there competing, [he’s] one of my bros,” Abrams said. “I know he gives it his all on the field, so I’m just trying to help him be the best, and he’s trying to help me be the best.”

Miller missed a chunk of the 2018 season due to injury as well as this past spring. Regarded by many as the most athletic defensive back on the roster, Miller is glad to back out there competing with his teammates and playing football.

“It’s just good be back out there actually playing football,” Miller said. “It’s been awhile, I’m just happy for that.”

When asked about how the younger defensive backs are coming along, Miller said everyone is focused on honing their skillset and daily improvement.

“We are all learning every day and trying to really get better and work on our craft every day,” Miller said. “Coach Tuck came in with a new system, we’re just learning off what he’s teaching us, and we’re just trying to get better.”

Despite their tight knit relationship on the field, Miller and Abrams have contrasting leadership styles. Abrams, described by Tucker as “humble and hardworking”, prefers to lead with his play.

“I lead by example,” Abrams said. I don’t like to talk really, but sometimes if I need to talk I’ll talk, but most the time I lead by example.”

Meanwhile, Miller said he’s more of a hands on, vocal guy, but also prides himself on his play on the field and work ethic.

“I feel like I probably [do] both,” Miller said. “If the younger guys need to do something that I see. If they need to take notes, I’ll help them out. I’ll be like ‘here’s some paper. Take some notes.’ Or out there on the field, if they need to fix up their technique just a little bit, I’ll tell them. It’s just little things I’ll tell them to help them, things I wish I knew when I was younger.”

Miller went on to echo Abrams point about staying positive. He said it’s sometimes hard for the freshmen to maintain a positive mental attitude, but Miller said it’s key.

“I’d say just don’t get down on yourself because a lot of our young freshmen they’re kind of new to the position and college sometimes [can get] crazy,” Miller said. “You need to just stay in there and just weather the storm and it’ll all get better at the end.”

Speaking of young freshmen, Tucker mentioned names of a couple freshmen that have stepped up and made progress so far in camp.

“K.J. Trujillo has stepped up and made some plays,” Tucker said. “I’m really happy that we moved Tarik Luckett over (to defensive back) because he shows up every day and makes some plays. He was making plays before he even knew what he was doing, so hopefully we don’t coach him down,” Tucker laughed. “I like his skillset. We’re going to need all those guys because we like to play a lot of DBs. We like to play five to six DBs every snap.”

The trio of Abrams, Blackmon and Miller will lead the Buffs, but there’s no shortage of young talent on the roster. Many of the young guys should see significant playing time early in their college football careers.

Delrick Abrams Jr. stepping into leadership role for the Buffs

The Colorado Buffaloes have a long history of defensive backs becoming leaders for their respective squads. Senior cornerback Delrick Abrams Jr. is ready to step into that role. The senior talked about his growth during his last season with the Buffs. Abrams said he’d do whatever it takes to help his team win.

“[I want to] be the best player and the best leader I can be for my team. That’s the best thing I can do for my team to help us win games,” Abrams said. “I feel like I have to be a leader. I’m trying to ease my way into being a leader. I try to pick up guys, tell them to keep their heads up, even though my head is up. I hold myself [to that] because I’m the older person in the room, so I got to show [the younger players].”

Colorado’s first-year defensive backs coach, Travares Tillman, who followed Buffs head coach Mel Tucker from the the University of Georgia this season, talked about Abrams’ maturity as well as embracing the ups and downs of player development.

“Delrick, he’s really mature. He’s a mature kid, so he comes in extra and puts  good work in, he’s progressing,” Tillman said. “I think sometimes he gets down on himself because he has good days and he has bad days. We’re just trying to look for some consistency out of him.”

Tillman played safety and corner for Georgia Tech from 1996-99. He said an important aspect of player development at the cornerback position is being able to establish a short-term memory.

“You got to have a very, very short memory because sometimes you may be in perfect coverage and just a good ball is thrown that way,” Tillman said. “You got to shake it off — next play. You got to have that mentality every time.”

Abrams went on to talk about how he’s ready to accept the challenge of the opponent’s top receiver every down. Abrams said he had some experience being the top defensive back last season, but this year he knows there’s still some growth to do, especially if he hopes to step in as a defensive leader for CU.

“Yeah, I feel like [I am], I felt like that last year, too,” Abrams said of being the No. 1 cover guy for Colorado. “Even in high school I felt like I was. [I feel like] I’m the best player on the field. I feel like no one can stop me. The only person that can stop me is me. I’m just a very competitive guy.”

Competitiveness is something that Tucker has emphasized throughout spring practice, but especially during scrimmages. When asked about the three things coach Tucker is having the defense focus on, Abrams said being physical and competitive at all times.

“The first one is being physical every play, [second:] compete every play [and third:] communication. If we do all three of those things we are going to be a top-ranked defense,” Abrams added.

As Abrams begins his final season with the Buffaloes, he’s had to maintain a physical style of play, because as he said, if you are not physical, you won’t play.

“[The coaching staff emphasizes physicality and intensity] every day. If you are not physical, you are not going to get on the field. It is the key,” Abrams said. “If you are not going to tackle, you are not going to be on the field, so that’s the key — be physical every practice.”

In his senior season, Abrams is using a physical style of play and his competitiveness as a way to further his game. Two important elements of CU’s new football slogan — “Relentless” — as coined by coach Tucker. In other words, being physical and competitive every down of every practice, in addition maintaining a high level of intensity.

“Over the practices [I have gotten] better being physical and competing and everything on every down, and just communicating basically,” Abrams said.

Being physical is something that coach Tucker and the new staff has emphasized to their players every day in practice.

“The biggest difference is [the coaching staff] wants us to be very physical and they want to win. it doesn’t matter [whether] offense beats the defense, if defense beats the offense; but at the end of the day, we are all here for a reason,” Abrams added. “We all want to win. The [coaches] compete and we compete. I like how that competition is.”

Coach Tillman talked about how Abrams leads by his actions, not so much vocally.

“He’s showing [leadership ability] more on the field. He’s not a real vocal guy,” Tillman said. [He shows it] just by the way he carries himself on the field.”

For Abrams, being physical at the line of scrimmage will help him when facing off against college football’s best wide receivers, his job as Colorado’s No. 1 cover guy. As he steps into a leadership role during his senior season, leading by example is Abrams main focus. His goal is to show the younger guys how it is done.

Curtis Chiaverini, under his dad’s guidance, is ready for the call

Colorado Buffaloes walk-on sophomore wide receiver Curtis Chiaverini is the son of current Buffs assistant coach/wide receivers coach Darrin Chiaverini. While Curtis walked on at CU in the beginning of the 2017 season, the elder Chiaverini has been coaching the Buffs since the 2016 season.

Darrin coached Curtis in youth football but wasn’t around a lot during Curtis’ high school years because of his coaching responsibilities elsewhere. When asked about what it is like to have his father around all the time now at Colorado, Curtis described it as “a great thing.”

“It’s cool because when he wasn’t coaching me, I didn’t really see him too much in off time, but now I see him all the time,” Curtis said. “When he is getting on me, he knows what’s in my best interest, so I really listen to him.”

Coach Chiaverini added that being able to coach Curtis at CU is a unique opportunity.

“It’s special…He was born in Boulder, so it’s really cool for it to come full circle — for him being born here and then me playing here — and then me being able to coach here and being able to coach him everyday,” Chiaverini said. “It’s really special for myself and for our family.”

Curtis talked about how in spite of the fact that he is the coach’s son, coach Chiaverini doesn’t put any extra pressure on him. Curtis said that the pressure that he does feel comes from his own internal drive.

“[My dad] tries not to put any pressure on me,” Curtis added. “Any pressure I feel, I put on myself because I’m always striving to get better.”

Despite the fact that coach Chiaverini has an intense demeanor on the field, Curtis said he and his dad are really close off the field and that his dad is just a normal father off the gridiron.

“Me and my dad are really cool,” he said. “We are always hanging out on the weekends, watching movies and stuff. He’s one of my close friends.”

When asked to come up with one word describe his father, Curtis went with “dedicated.” He said his dad applies a dedicated mindset in all aspects of his life, whether it’s family or football related.

“In every aspect of his life, he is just a dedicated man, whether it’s family, football [or] work, just everything,” Curtis said.

When asked about the difference between coach Chiaverini as a father compared to Chiavernini as a coach, Curtis said one’s more laid back than the other.

“One has a much more relaxed demeanor. Darrin the coach really just gets on to you and Darrin the dad just likes to chill out and just talk smack,” Curtis laughed. “So, it’s a big difference.”

Coach Chiaverini said that football wasn’t always a sure thing for his son. However, over time Curtis has grown to love it.

“I’m really proud of him. He’s come a long way from when he was a younger kid because he didn’t really enjoy football that much when he was little and he has really come to love it; and [he] wants to get better and work hard,” he said.

Coach Chiaverini’s wide receiving unit will be led by upperclassmen, such as juniors Laviska Shenault Jr. and K.D. Nixon, as well as the lone senior at the position, Tony Brown. The primary points of emphasis for the Buffs’ wide receivers have been to maintain a high level of confidence in the system and what the receivers do as a unit.

“The points of emphasis for us have been really just staying calm, being confident in what we are doing, and see ball, catch ball; and then we just take it from there,” Curtis said.

Individual improvement in the spring session will be critical in order for the Buffs’ wide receiving unit to find success. Curtis said he feels he has improved significantly since last fall.

“In my aspect of my game, my separation and just route technique has gotten a lot better,” he said. “I still got a lot to improve on, but I feel like I have made strides since the fall.”

Last year, multiple CU wideouts suffered nagging injuries that forced them to miss time late in the year. Shenault Jr., former Colorado wide receivers Juwann Winfree, Jay MacIntyre and Nixon all missed time, which likely contributed to the Buffs’ struggling offense late last season. Because of this, Curtis said everybody has to be ready.

“That’s how [coach Tucker] is with everybody. He just wants everybody to be prepared at any given moment and then when the opportunity arises you got to take advantage of it,” Curtis said.

Being able to learn from Shenault Jr., Brown and Nixon has been critical to the success of the younger players at the position.

“Things that you learn from them are just like how to carry yourself on the football field because they are all really good leaders. They are always trying to set the example,” Curtis added. “They are always trying to bring people up with them. Just watching them, being around them, it really elevates everybody else’s game.”

Coach Chiaverini has seen Shenault grow throughout his time at Colorado. Chiaverini recruited Shenault and has seen him mature as a person and leader.

“I recruited Laviska out of high school and I’ve really seen him grow as a person. He’s a lot more outgoing,”  Chiaverini said. “He’s a lot more engaging with people. He looks people in the eye now, and I think it’s just a matter of him being more comfortable with himself teammates. I like the way he works.”

Coach Chiaverini echoed similar sentiments for Brown. Although, Chiaverini said Brown prefers to lead by example.

“Same thing with Tony Brown,” Chiaverini continued. “He’s more a consistent, quiet leader, but the guy comes out everyday and practices hard and makes plays. He’s done a really good job.”

Coach Chiaverini said his son just continues to embrace every moment and is getting better every day. Welcoming and overcoming obstacles is part of football and Chiaverini is happy that Curtis continues to progress.

“It’s good to see that as a dad, to see his development as a young man, being able to attack challenges and overcome adversity because that’s part of the game,” Chiaverini said. “It teaches you life skills through football. So I’m proud of him as a dad obviously.”

Chiaverini said the key for Curtis is making the most of his chances. He’s seen Curtis progress through practice and is confident he will make the most of his opportunity.

“[Curtis] had a nice catch today in team drills. We had live team drills and he came out and made a really nice catch. Whenever you get an opportunity to play you have to take advantage of it,” Chiaverini said.

Curtis, coach Chiaverini and the new-look, coach Tucker-led Buffs will take the field for the annual Spring Game on Saturday, April 27 at Folsom Field.

For Mustafa Johnson and the Buffs, intensity and physicality are key in spring practice

The overarching goal of spring practice this year for the Colorado Buffaloes football team is to turn up the intensity and physicality.

Junior defensive lineman Mustafa Johnson talked about how the new coaching staff — led by former Georgia defensive coordinator and current Colorado head coach Mel Tucker — is trying to change the culture of CU football.

When asked the biggest difference from last year’s culture to this year’s during the Buffs’ spring practice, Johnson pointed to the changing energy.

“Intensity,” Johnson said of the first few practices. “[The coaches] are trying to change the culture for us. They’re trying to make us more physical, hitting, just out-tough every single team. You can see that they’re doing that through drill after drill. They are just trying to make us harder guys, tougher in all aspects of the game.”

Johnson went on to talk about how the new coaching staff has put an emphasis on being more physical and intense on both sides of the ball.

“[Coach Tucker] emphasizes it all the time, the whole staff emphasizes it,” Johnson said. “Everybody is on board with the plan, that’s what ‘Relentless’ is. Not just doing it in the first quarter, doing it in the fourth quarter, playing physical all game.”

“Relentless” is the word used by Tucker to describe the culture of what he wants Colorado football to be. He even had t-shirts made with “Relentless” printed in bold lettering on the front. Tucker and many of his players can often be seen wearing the shirts on a day-to-day basis — a simple reminder to his players of his cultural message to them.

Being a former defensive coordinator at the University of Georgia, a program which he helped lead to the SEC Championship last season, Tucker brings a strong defensive understanding. It’s something Colorado needs more of after finishing ninth in the Pac-12 in points allowed per game last season.

Johnson talked about what his new head coach brings to the table from a defensive standpoint.

“[He brings] a lot of knowledge,” Johnson said. “He’s always standing on our side and making sure that he is stepping in coaching and doing a lot of things. That means a lot when it’s your head coach coming in, stepping in and saying stuff, helping you out. Not to downplay any of the other coaches, but it’s different coming from the head coach, so I think that is a wonderful thing that’s going on.”

Johnson also pointed out a difference in energy and hustle that this coaching staff has emphasized so far this spring.

“We’re focused on hustling, hustle to the ball all the time,” he said. “For the D-line, they’re having us run 20 yards down the field every time, even though the ball might be down. And the third [point of emphasis] is probably making plays, like capitalizing on all the plays we get the opportunity to play on.”

The coaching staff has put a lot of emphasis on taking advantage of every single play. Defensively, that means extra emphasis on creating turnovers.

“Picks, fumbles, forcing them, creating turnovers — all that,” Johnson said.

For the upcoming 2019 season, success for the football team will come in the form of significant improvement from last year, where the Buffs lost seven straight to finish the season.

Johnson talked about what would make this season a successful one for Colorado.

“Obviously, a better record than last year,” Johnson said with a chuckle. “But we are trying to go to a bowl game. Obviously, every team is looking for the championship, so that’s in mind also, but it’s important to just take it step by step, game by game.”

Individually, Johnson said he hopes to improve his pass-rush skills to expand his game.

“I’m doing a lot more pass-rush stuff,” Johnson said. “I’m pretty solid in the run game. I’m obviously trying to get better, but I want to create more sacks, create more negative plays. Last year I had eight sacks, I want to improve that; [and] I had about 20 tackles for loss, I want to improve all that. So, creating negative plays that’s what I want to improve on.”

Johnson, who actually had 18 tackles for loss, talked about the everyday grind of spring training, and he mentioned that if you don’t bring energy, it’s going to be a long day.

“You got to bring energy,” Johnson said. “That is the only way you are going to make it through these practices, because [the coaches] are yelling and hollering at you, and if you are just sitting there moping around, it’s going to be a long day for you. If you bring energy and a good attitude, it is going to be a good day.”

The emphasis for this year is on intensity, physicality and improvement from last season. From a defensive standpoint, that means much more energy and activity, which is something this new coaching staff is highlighting. Johnson said it is all about making plays and cleaning up fundamental mistakes.

“I would just say making plays on balls — that’s all it is — securing tackles,” Johnson said. “We had a few games where we missed a lot of tackles, things like that. We’re emphasizing finishing tackles, hard thud, wrapping up; and for our [defensive backs], making plays on balls, batting them down, good technique, things like that.”

Cleaning up mistakes and practicing good, solid fundamentals is the focus for the Buffs defensively. Being more aggressive and bringing more intensity is something players and coaches have to practice on a daily basis in order to change the culture of Colorado football before the new season begins in.

Under coach Tucker, let the “Relentless” era begin.

Once denied the chance to play football, Davion Taylor eyes NFL Draft in final year with Buffs

In high school, senior outside linebacker Davion Taylor did not play football. He did however, play basketball and participated in the track and field program. Taylor ran the 100 and 200-meter dashes and competed in the long and triple jumps. Playing basketball, Taylor averaged 10 points and eight rebounds as a senior.

Taylor did not play high school football due to his religious beliefs. Taylor’s mother is a member of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church that is distinguished by its observance of Saturday as the Sabbath. Due to their beliefs, Taylor did not participate in sporting activities from Friday night until Sunday morning.

Originally a walk-on in junior college, Taylor has earned everything he’s received throughout his collegiate athletic career. Taylor said he still carries the mindset of a walk-on with him despite the fact that he is on scholarship at Colorado.

“By me being a walk-on, earning a scholarship, I feel like every day I try to come with that same mindset, knowing that I was a walk-on, and knowing I had to earn a scholarship,” Taylor said. “I feel like now with the new coaches and everything, even though I am on scholarship I feel like I’m doing the same thing all over again. I have to prove myself and I have to earn all of that all over again in order for me to be successful.”

That mindset will help Taylor as he transitions to a more versatile role in his final year with the Buffs. Taylor said the biggest difference for him this year will be learning how to excel in more of a coverage role compared to last year.

“I’m more in coverage this year, so I have to learn how to cover way better and I think it’s helped me when it comes to trying to enter the draft and everything, being versatile, being able to rush off the edge, being able to cover any receiver; I’m trying to catch more picks this year,” Taylor said.

In addition to his covering abilities, Taylor hopes to step up his physicality this year in order to not only be successful this year, but also get the attention of NFL scouts.

“[I hope to] be more physical,” Taylor said. “Last year I think I was a little physical, but I think I can get way better at that because I got bigger, I got stronger. So, that’s another thing I’m trying to emphasize more is being more physical coming off the ball and getting a lot more big hits than last year.”

Taylor not only walked on at Coahoma Community College (CCC) for football, he also competed in the track and field program for CCC. In 2016 he ran the 100 and 200-meter dashes and qualified for NFCAA Track and Field Championships. Taylor’s top time was 10.63 seconds earning him a second-place finish in the 100-meter dash at the ASU Red Wolf Open.

Furthermore, Taylor finished fifth at the Memphis Invitational with a time of 21.52. seconds. He was .01 seconds shy of qualifying for the championship meet in the 200-meter dash.

Taylor was an All-Pac 12 performer in the 100-meter dash thanks to a sixth-place finish at the event at the 2018 Pac-12 Outdoor Championships. His top time in the 100-meter dash was 10.51 seconds, the fastest recorded time at CU in five years.

The senior went on to talk about how his track and field experience has helped to set him up to be successful playing football. Taylor talked about how track and field has helped him with his conditioning and maintaining speed.

“[Track and field] mostly helps me with my speed,” Taylor said. “At my size, there are a lot of smaller slot receivers and they are quick, so running track helps me with being explosive breaking to the sideline, or breaking for the goal, or trying to catch up with a quick receiver.”

In his final year at Colorado, Taylor hopes to expand his game and garner attention from NFL scouts. Despite the fact that his new role will be significantly more challenging, Taylor’s conditioning and speed should remain at its peak because of his track and field experience and walk-on mindset.

Taylor’s journey to Colorado was an improbable one. Once denied the opportunity to play football, he now looks forward to his final year with the Buffs in a new, expanded role. At the end, Taylor hopes to hear his name called in the 2020 NFL Draft.

 

K.D. Nixon, Buffs focused on little things in week one of spring practice

The first week of spring practice is in the books for new head coach Mel Tucker and the Colorado Buffaloes football team. The focus of the first week: improvement and taking it one day at a time.

The process is only just beginning for the Buffs, who are just three practices in of their 15-practice NCAA-mandated spring schedule. After so much time off from last season, and only a handful of allowed team practice days, it’s important the team maximizes every day of training to the fullest.

It’s especially different with a brand new coaching staff, which implements a totally different approach from the Mike MacIntyre-led regime. There’s a whole new playbook and approach that the Buffaloes must quickly adapt to. Tucker was impressed with his group’s first few practices.

“I thought we were able to establish our tempo, how we want to work, how we want to practice. I thought the guys did a fantastic job…Our coaches were outstanding,” Tucker said. “Our practice organization and efficiency had a lot more intensity…I was really proud of that. That’s got to be our brand, that’s got to be our standard. We set the foundation for that this week.”

For junior wide receiver K.D. Nixon, he’s taking the adjustments in stride. He understands the importance of being on top of it everyday and learning from his new coaches, especially when there are only a handful of practice days allowed during the spring slate.

“The little things, blocking and transitioning — these coaches are really strict on everything we do,” Nixon said. “So we want to get better every day, day by day. It’s the first week, but the week after spring break we have to step back up.”

Nixon stressed how Tucker’s staff is very detail-oriented and focused on the the fundamentals in order to be successful. The coaches are putting a lot of emphasis on how the players practice and transitions within drills during practice, in addition to preaching the fundamentals.

After a disappointing finish to last season, which included seven straight losses towards the end of the year, Tucker and his staff will do everything in their power to avoid a similar collapse. And in order to do that, he needs to make sure his team goes back to the basics and understands the fundamentals and the ‘little things,’ as he calls them, so history doesn’t repeat. 

“Basically, like I said, focusing on the little things, that’s what got us beat, that’s what got us 5-7 [record],” Nixon added. “You have to speak about it before you repeat history, and that’s one thing we are not trying to repeat, [being] 5-7 again. We are trying to get to a bowl game this year.”

Nixon went on to talk about how it’s important to take each game as it comes, but he didn’t leave out the end goal.

“Take every game one by one…our goal is to win a Pac-12 Championship but we don’t want to look ahead. It’s phase two right now — spring ball — so that’s what we are focused on,” said Nixon. “We gotta take advantage of phase two, phase three in the summer, phase four [in the] fall [and] phase five: the games.”

Despite the fact that the regular season won’t start for over five months, Nixon hopes to build from a successful sophomore campaign in which he recorded 52 receptions for 636 yards and four touchdowns, second only to his fellow Desoto, Texas native, Laviska Shenault Jr., in all three stats.

Nixon proved to be a legitimate threat last season, averaging over 12 yards per reception, and stepped up big when the Buffs’ Heisman-candidate hopeful Shenault went down with an injury. 

 He expects more from himself this coming season. 

“My expectations are high,” he added. “I’m a firm believer that we all are expected for greatness. So, my goals are high.”

As far as what he hopes to improve on during spring practice, Nixon said ‘everything.’ And again, it’s the little things that will lead to that improvement.  

“I can always improve on everything. I dropped two balls today, something I never have done,” said Nixon. “So I gotta get back to work, catch 100 balls a day just like I do. I slacked off yesterday and it showed today.”

In the first few spring practice for coach Tucker and staff, the first-year coach is focused on establishing solid, meaningful relationships with his players. It’s something Nixon appreciates very much.

“[Tucker is good at] relating and being in tune with us, having fun, being on us 24/7,” said Nixon. “… talking to us about being a pro. He’s just invested in us.”

It’s a good sign for the young coach in the early parts of the 2019 season. Tucker and Nixon will have plenty more time to establish more rapport in the months leading up to opening kickoff. 

Another good sign is that the majority of Colorado’s offensive unit remains intact from last season. Aside from losing its former starting running back in Travon McMillian, CU returns a hefty majority of its weapons, including Nixon, Shenault Jr. and senior quarterback Steven Montez.

To backpack off of Nixon’s terminology, the Buffs are only just beginning “phase two” of their process. In order to find success during “phase five” — the actual games during the season — the Buffs will need to continue the effective practices they’ve been having so far.

Coach Tucker, Nixon and the rest of the team will debut the new-look Buffaloes on August 30 against the Colorado State Rams at Mile High Stadium.

Freshman guard Emma Clarke brings unique experience to the court

Colorado Buffaloes women’s basketball freshman guard Emma Clarke grew up in Perth, the capital of Western Australia, and home to more than 1.9 million people. Now thousands of miles and a 24-hour flight away from home, she stars at guard for the Buffaloes in the decidedly smaller hamlet of Boulder, Colorado.

Before arriving at CU, Clarke played basketball for the Perry Lakes Hawks, a team based in Perth. In 2017, she graduated from Basketball Australia’s Centre of Excellence at the Australian institute of Sport in Canberra, Australia. While it’s clear Clarke has a knack for the game of basketball, the game she knows so well has taken some adjusting here in the States.

“It’s a lot faster paced here than we are at home,” said Clarke. “It’s a different adjustment, some of the rules are different, plays are different. We focus on the opponent more than we do ourselves.”

Now, with the regular season coming to a close following the Buffs’ matchup with the Bruins on Sunday, the focus shifts to next season. Clarke, however, took some time to look back on her freshman year with CU, exchanging stories about her favorite moments of the season.

“I would say [my favorite moment was] probably when we beat USC because we hadn’t won a Pac-12 game [yet] and we were still so excited for the game,” Clarke said. “When the buzzer sounded at the end, we were all so happy and jumping around and we got to sing our fight song again, so that was probably the best moment this year.”

Prior to Colorado’s season opener, Clarke got the chance to travel to Bangalore, India to represent Team Australia in the U18 FIBA Women’s Asian Championships. Clarke was one of only three Division I players representing Team Australia in the tournament.

“It was really different,” she said of the experience. “It was really good to play against the other teams like Japan and China. They’re really fast and small. It was a really good experience to see the different levels of basketball there are out there.”

Australia played a total of six games in India, finishing with a 4-2 record, good for third place in the tournament. Clarke averaged 6.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists in the five games she appeared in.

Her first experience playing international basketball came last season at the U17 FIBA Oceania Championships. She led Australia to a gold medal, averaging 18 points, seven rebounds and 4.4 assists per game. Clarke was named to the All-Star 5 at the tournament.

For Clarke, the international competition helped her grow as a player and become more independent.

“[I’ve been] looking after myself, I would say; taping my own ankles, doing my own treatment and recovery,” Clarke added. “Looking out for myself without having to lean on lots of people.”

Throughout this season with Colorado, Clarke’s minutes have gradually increased and with that experience came some increased confidence.

“I came in kind of hesitant at the start…My first non-conference game, I was just shooting the ball, kind of scared to put it on the floor and scared to be aggressive,” Clarke said. “As I’ve been through practices and more games and the help of our seniors and the great coaches we have, they’ve definitely instilled confidence in me and made me believe I can do whatever I set my mind to.”

Clarke’s ability to put the ball on the floor was a key factor in her career high 15-point performance against the Washington Huskies on Feb. 24. She finished the game 6-of-11 from the field.

While that was an impressive individual effort from Clarke, as she’s alluded to, she’s learning how basketball is more of a team game. Lucky for her, she’s had two of the better Buffs in the women’s program history on her team all season long, senior guards Kennedy Leonard and Alexis Robinson.

“They’ve had a really big impact,” Clarke said of the two seniors. “They’ve been really good leaders on and off the court, they’ve been encouraging and telling us to get in the gym and the weight room and really getting after us. We just wanted to try and make it the best season for them.”

Clarke observed the two seniors all season long and she’s learned a thing or two from them. Most notably, it was their impressive work ethic that made the biggest impact on the freshman’s habits both on and off the court.

“They’re really hard workers,” she adds. “Kennedy comes in probably every day to get up shots before practice and after; and Lex (Alexis Robinson) is always in the weight room trying to get stronger. Definitely just hard work and how much a team needs everyone to get along with each other.”

Not only have the two seniors helped Clarke individually, she adds that they helped the cohesiveness as a team and brought everyone closer together in the locker room.

“Our chemistry has definitely gotten a lot better since the start of the season,” Clarke said. “The freshman coming in, we didn’t really know many people, but they brought us together. They’ve been great this year for us.”

The two seniors were key in helping Clarke adjust to basketball in the United States in her freshman year with the Buffs. In addition, her international experience helped her adjust to the faster pace of basketball here in the United States. Now, with Leonard and Robinson set to graduate, it’s the soon-to-be sophomore’s hope that she’s learned enough to take the next step with the Buffaloes come next season.

Her freshman season isn’t quite over yet, however. Clarke and the rest of Colorado’s women’s basketball team will head to Las Vegas for the annual Pac-12 tournament. The Buffs will take on the Arizona State Sun Devils in the first round of the tourney on Thursday at 12:30 p.m. MST.

Buffs bit by Huskies on senior day, fall 60-46 to Washington

The Colorado Buffaloes and Washington Huskies faced off on Sunday afternoon at CU Events Center in the Buffs’ home finale. Following a victory over the Washington State Cougars Friday night, Colorado looked to continue their winning ways on Sunday afternoon.

Senior guard Kennedy Leonard played her final game at CU Events Center on Sunday and capped her four-year career at Colorado. On Friday, Leonard scored 12 points and recorded eight assists in the Buffs 72-61 win over the Cougars in her return to the starting lineup.

In addition to Leonard, senior guard Alexis Robinson played her final home game with the Buffaloes on Sunday afternoon. Leonard and Robinson had a combined 2,847 points going into Sunday’s game, and they’re the only active players with 1,000 or more points.

The Washington Huskies hoped to snap a 10-game losing streak dating back to Jan. 11, when they defeated Colorado 68-58 in Seattle. Despite the fact that both teams are near the bottom of the conference, finishing the season on a high note would mean a lot to both squads heading into the Pac-12 tournament.

Colorado snapped a two-game losing streak last time out and looked to give the fans at CU Events Center one last show before heading out on the road for the final two games of the season.

Freshman forward Peanut Tuitele and senior guard Kennedy Leonard opened the scoring for the Buffaloes as they led 5-0 early. Leonard eclipsed 1,600 points for her career with an early three-pointer and layup, moving into eighth place on the program’s all-time scoring list. The Huskies responded though as junior forward Mai-Loni Henson knocked down a three-pointer and led Washington on a 9-0 run.

Tuitele was the beneficiary of slick interior passing and scored her second basket of the game to cut the Washington lead to two. The Huskies responded with an and-one and went the other way and a 7-0 run. Washington then extended their lead to 12 when sophomore guard Missy Peterson splashed a three with just over a minute to go in the first quarter.

The Huskies started hot from the field shooting over 57 percent in the first quarter. A pair of free throws from junior guard Amber Melgoza gave Washington a 21-7 lead as the first quarter concluded. The Huskies closed the quarter on a 12-0 run.

Henson extended the Washington lead to 17 with an and-one layup. Freshman guard Emma Clarke knocked down a three in response for the Buffaloes.

Clarke starred late in the second quarter for the Buffs scoring 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field. Freshman guard Lesila Finau cut the lead to 11 for Colorado with just over two and a half minutes remaining in the second quarter.

Clarke finished with a career-high 15 points and talked about her growing confidence as a player.

“Coming from Australia: foreign country, different teammates, different rules, I came in kind of hesitant at the start,” Clarke said. “My first non-conference game I was just shooting the ball, kind of scared to put it on the floor and scared to be aggressive. As I’ve been through practices and more games and the help of our seniors and the great coaches we have, they’ve definitely instilled confidence in me and made me believe I can do whatever I set my mind to.”

Leonard talked about Clarke’s second-quarter outburst and success shooting the ball.

“Emma is a really good shooter,” Leonard said. “I think the timing of it was the best part about it because we were down by a lot of points. I always tell Emma to shoot it whether people are on her or not. I think that it gave her good confidence.”

The Colorado offense struggled throughout the first two quarters, shooting just 37 percent from the field. The Huskies led 34-24 at the end of the second quarter.

Melgoza extended the Washington lead to 15 with an and-one early in the third quarter. Henson knocked down a three-pointer to open up an 18-point advantage for the Huskies.

A layup and free throw from Leonard cut the Washington lead to 13 with just over six minutes remaining in the third quarter. Senior guard Jenna Moser knocked down a three in response for the Huskies.

The Buffs stepped up defensively in the third quarter forcing multiple 24-second shot-clock violations. Sophomore forward Annika Jank cut the Washington lead to nine with a free throw, with just over a minute to play in the third quarter. Junior guard Mathilde Diop went 1-of-2 at the line to cut the lead to eight.

Colorado closed the quarter on an 8-0 run, but the Huskies still led by eight at the end of the third frame. Washington went scoreless over the last five minutes of the quarter.

Offensive rebounds were key in the fourth quarter for the Huskies. UW had multiple opportunities to score despite the fact that they were inefficient from the field. Melgoza extended the Washington lead to 17 with just over five minutes to play in the fourth quarter.

The Buffs 5-0 run was answered by a three-pointer from sophomore forward Khayla Rooks.

Both teams shot a relatively low percentage from the field in game, but late offensive rebounds made a huge difference for the Huskies.

“We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well,” Payne said. “We got out-rebounded, didn’t get to the free throw line — things that we typically do pretty well — and things that for us typically lead to success, like out-rebounding our opponent, getting to the free throw line, taking care of the ball. We just weren’t able to do as well as we typically do.”

The Buffs fell short on senior day to the Washington Huskies, 60-46, a tough break for the Buffs’ two graduating members.

“Senior days are tough because there’s so much emotion that goes into the game and the lead up to it and all of that is really difficult,” Payne added. “Even more difficult because we only had one of our two seniors that were able to play today.”

Colorado will travel to Southern California to face the Trojans on Friday. The game tips at 8 p.m. MST.

Hot shooting carries Buffs to fifth straight win

The Colorado Buffaloes and Arizona Wildcats faced off at the CU Events Center on Sunday night. The Buffs looked to extend their winning streak to five games with a win over the Wildcats. Meanwhile, Arizona looked to snap a six game losing streak.

Sophomore forward Tyler Bey scored the first four points of the game as Colorado led 6-0 early. The Buffs hot shooting continued when sophomore guard Shane Gatling splashed a three and knocked down two free throws to put Colorado up 15-5.

Junior forward Lucas Siewert (4th in the Pac-12 in three point percentage) hit a three to give the Buffs their largest lead at 11. Colorado knocked down ten of their first 11 shots to begin the contest. A layup from Bey gave the Buffs a 27-16 lead, matching their largest of the game.

Colorado’s hot shooting continued with a jump shot from freshman forward Evan Battey. Battey began the game a perfect 3-of-3 from the field.

The three point shot kept the Wildcats in striking distance. They knocked down four in the first half. A scoring drought of over five minutes for the Buffs allowed Arizona to stay in the game. It was a six point game with just under a minute to play in the half. A pair of free throws from Siewert gave Colorado an eight point lead. However, a jam from sophomore forward Ira Lee cut the Buffs lead the six as time ran out in the first half.

Siewert led the way in the first half for the Buffs, scoring eight points and grabbing four rebounds. Senior forward Ryan Luther splashed three triples in the first half to keep the Wildcats in the game.

Junior forward Chase Jeter scored the first four points of the second half for the Wildcats, as Colorado’s lead was cut to two. Junior guard Shane Gatling opened the scoring for the Buffs in the second half with a layup.

Colorado struggled shooting the ball to begin the second half scoring just one of their first five. A floater from Luther tied the game at 36 with just over 15 minutes to play. A few moments later McKinley Wright IV and one gave the Buffs a 38-36 lead.

Wright IV scored seven straight for Colorado to give the Buffs a 43-36 lead. Bey was impressive on the glass for Colorado snagging seven boards (hw finished with ten)  with just under 14 minutes to play in the second half.

A Gatling jumper and Bey dunk gave Colorado an eight point lead. The Buffs were efficient from the free throw line throughout the game knocking down 14 of 15. A three from sophomore guard D’Shawn Schwartz gave Colorado a 12 point lead with under eleven minutes to play in the second half.

Since Arizona tied the game at 36, the Buffs went on a 17-5 run to take their largest lead of the game. Junior guard Dylan Smith scored four straight for the Wildcats to cut the deficit to seven.

A Siewert drive and score extended the Colorado lead to ten. A Smith three cut the Colorado lead to seven with two and a half minutes remaining. A Lee block on Wright IV gave Arizona the ball, however Colorado stopped the Wildcats on the following possession.

A pair of free throws from Gatling gave the Buffs a nine point lead with 30 seconds remaining. Colorado defeated the Wildcats 67-60. Wright IV and Siewert carried the load for Colorado scoring 14 and 15 points respectively.

Head coach Tad Boyle said of Wright IV, “The kids got the heart of a lion. He’s just a big shot taker and a big shot maker.” Colorado improves to 16-9, 7-6 in conference play.

A victory for the Buffs gave the Wildcats their seventh straight loss, something that hasn’t happened since 1983. The Buffs will travel to Pullman to take on Washington State on Wednesday night.

 

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