In a span of just a few hours on Sunday, KJ Simpson went from being yanked from the starting lineup to sparking a huge upset victory with a career performance.
Colorado’s defeat of No. 11 Tennessee was by far the biggest win of the young season for Pac-12 Conference basketball. And on Monday, Simpson was honored accordingly.
Simpson landed the first Pac-12 Player of the Week award of the season after posting the first double-double of his career against the Volunteers. Relegated to a bench role as head coach Tad Boyle juggled the starting lineup in the wake of a bad loss at Grambling State less than 48 hours earlier, Simpson responded in a big way against the Volunteers, establishing a pair of new career-highs with 23 points and 10 rebounds.
It was the first Player of the Week honor of Simpson’s career, although he twice won the league’s Freshman of the Week award last season. Simpson is CU’s first Player of the Week honoree since former point guard McKinley Wright IV won it late in the 2020-21 season.
“(Simpson) was terrific,” Boyle said after the win against Tennessee. “KJ I thought really took the game in his own hands there down the stretch and really controlled the tempo and found a good balance between being in attack mode — because you don’t want to start milking the clock too early, you want to stay in attack mode but yet find that balance of using the clock and attacking.
“And the way he rebounded. The (23) points, he’ll have other nights like that for sure. But the 10 rebounds were fantastic.”
Simpson scored 15 of his 23 points after halftime, when the Buffs took control by outscoring the Vols 46-32. Simpson repeatedly scored points at critical junctures.
The 6-foot-2 guard knocked down his first 3-point attempt after coming off the bench and hit another clutch one from NBA range at the halftime buzzer, turning a five-point deficit into a two-point lead for Tennessee at the break. The Buffs took control behind an 8-0 run shortly after halftime and, later, a 9-0 run. Simpson played a key role in both bursts.
He opened the 8-0 run with a floater in the lane and helped cap it with an assist on a 3-pointer by Julian Hammond III. The 9-0 run, which turned a five-point CU lead into a 14-point advantage with less than five minutes remaining, began with a pair of driving buckets by Simpson. He also finished with three assists and went 7-for-9 at the free throw line, including 5-for-6 in the final 1 minute, 49 seconds.
Simpson’s week also included a 14-point game in the opener against UC Riverside and 16 points at Grambling. Prior to Sunday, Simpson’s previous high scoring effort was 19 points at Cal last year. His previous rebounding high was eight against New Mexico in the second game of his freshman season.
For Simpson and the Buffs, Sunday’s effort likely will provide a confidence boost as the team travels to South Carolina, where they open the Myrtle Beach Invitational on Thursday against UMass (11:30 a.m. MT, ESPNU).
“Definitely going in (to Myrtle Beach) with a lot of momentum, a lot of energy,” Simpson said. “But the thing is, we can’t just dwell on this (Tennessee) win and be high-headed about this win. It’s a great win against a great team, but there’s a lot more games, a lot left of the season to be played still. We’ve got to go into Myrtle Beach and play tough teams. We’ve got to keep our mindset of maintaining that energy.”
After losing to the Buffs on a neutral floor that essentially was a Tennessee home game, the Vols dropped from No. 11 to No. 22 in the latest AP top 25 released on Monday. The Buffs received 11 points in the poll, unofficially coming in at No. 37 as the 12th team in others receiving votes. Grambling, thanks to its win against CU, picked up four points in the poll.
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