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Former CU Buff Nique Clifford continues bounce-back season for CSU Rams

Mar. 20—DAYTON, Ohio — Nique Clifford arrived at Colorado nearly four years ago with as much talent and potential just about as any recruit in the history of Colorado men's basketball.

Clifford certainly flashed that potential during his two seasons in the rotation with the Buffaloes, but he never was able to quite put it all together. At least not consistently.

That certainly has not been the case at Colorado State.

The player whose confidence appeared shaken at the end of his CU tenure continued his remarkable bounce-back season on Tuesday, as Clifford was the all-around catalyst for Colorado State's dominant 67-42 victory against Virginia in an NCAA First Four battle in Dayton. The 11th-seeded Rams (25-10) will play seventh-seeded Texas on Friday in Charlotte, N.C. (4:50 p.m. MT, TNT).

"Nique did a great job (Tuesday) at driving close-outs, getting in the lane, attacking," CSU coach Niko Medved said. "Obviously Isaiah (Stevens) draws a ton of attention, but he didn't panic at all. He just played the right way, like he does. And then obviously Joel Scott got going inside. Just a tremendous job by our guys of playing the way we want to play."

All those myriad skills Clifford couldn't quite unlock at CU were on full display in CSU's emphatic tournament opener.

The 6-foot-6 wing from Colorado Springs opened his night with a 3-pointer, then scored CSU's next points on a drive to the hoop. Soon after, Clifford spotted up for another 3-pointer, only to spot Scott cutting free to the basket for an easy assist.

By the time he was done, Clifford put up a 7-for-12 mark while finishing with 17 points, 10 rebounds and six assists against just one turnover. It was his 11th double-digit rebounding game of the season and ninth double-double, and it continued a remarkable turnaround for a player whose confidence had seemed to collapse by the end of the 2022-23 season.

Clifford averaged 5.9 points and 3.9 rebounds for the Buffs last year, finishing with a .374 shooting percentage with a .288 mark on 3-pointers. He also inexplicably shot just 60% at the free throw line in two seasons in the CU rotation (57-for-95).

After Tuesday's stellar effort, Clifford is averaging 12.3 points and 7.6 rebounds while starting all 35 games for the Rams. He is shooting .526 overall, .377 on 3-pointers and .759 at the free throw line. Additionally, after recording more turnovers than assists in both seasons in the CU rotation, Clifford's six-assist, one-turnover showing in the NCAA Tournament opener left him with an assist-to-turnover rate of 1.74 (106 assists, 61 turnovers).

"Credit my teammates for making shots," Clifford said. "I wouldn't be able to get assists if they didn't make shots. I just give all the credit to them. And then the coaches for putting me in perfect situations to make plays, distribute the ball."