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Game day notes: Julian Hammond III looks to continue return to form for CU Buffs at Utah

Feb. 3—Only rest will help return Julian Hammond III's back to 100%. But rest isn't an option for at least another month and a half. Longer, if the Buffaloes have their way.

Hammond, Colorado's junior guard, has been playing through what he described as a fracture in his back, an ailment that kept Hammond sidelined for two games a month ago.

Hammond is coming off his most effective game since his return, and he will look to keep the newfound momentum rolling as the CU men's basketball team attempts to pick up what would be a crucial road win on Saturday afternoon at Utah (3 p.m., Pac-12 Network).

"It's something that I can't injure worse, but it's something that can't get getter without rest," Hammond said. "There's no good solution to it in the middle of the season. Hopefully by the end of the year all the stiffness is gone. But it's nothing that's going to get worse by being out there."

Hammond already had been trying to play through the injury when he suffered hard fall at Arizona on Jan. 4, keeping him on the bench for the second half. Hammond then missed the next two games, road losses at Arizona State and California, before returning to the rotation.

Hammond struggled to regain the shooting form he displayed prior to his injury, going 2-for-15 overall and 0-for-5 on 3-pointers in the first four games of his return. Hammond looked more like his former self during a loss at Washington State a week ago, going 4-for-10 overall and 2-for-4 on 3-pointers with 10 points — his first double-digit scoring effort since he scored 11 points against in the Pac-12 opener against Washington on Dec. 29.

"Obviously you want to win the game, but it's just something for me to build on personally," Hammond said. "I was just going through a little slump. It doesn't help being out for a week and not playing basketball that long. So it was just getting back to a rhythm and flow. I'm confident in my jumper all the time, so that's never been a problem. But seeing the ball go through and scoring the ball, once you see it you get comfortable."

Sharpshooter

CU (15-6, 6-4 Pac-12) will encounter a foe that has lit up the Buffs in recent seasons in Utah guard Cole Bajema, a transfer from Washington.

In his first season with the Utes, Bajema has started all 21 games while averaging 9.2 points per game. Bajema is shooting .402 on 3-pointers (37-for-92), and he's coming off a 4-for-8, 10-point showing at his former home at Washington.

Bajema has been a particular thorn in the side of the Buffs recently. In four games against CU over the past two seasons, Bajema has averaged 13.8 points while shooting .563 (18-for-32) overall and .650 (13-for-20) from long range.

Familiar faces

Saturday's matchup will be the Buffs' third this season against a former teammate. While former CU center Lawson Lovering is questionable due to an injury that has sidelined him the past four games, the reunion still continues a transfer portal-era trend of lining up against familiar faces.

Former Buffs wing Nique Clifford went 5-for-10 with 15 points and six rebounds for Colorado State in a Rams win against CU on Nov. 29, while former CU guard Keeshawn Barthelemy went 4-for-8 off the bench with nine points, two assists and three steals for Oregon in a Buffs win in Boulder on Jan. 18.

"They know you more than anybody else," Hammond said. "Lawson's a big so obviously we're not matched up. But playing against Keeshawn and Nique, we played each other every day for two years out here. You get to know guys, their strengths and weaknesses. Regardless of what they're doing, you always have that in the back of your head, like they prefer this or they're going to do this."

Notable

Colorado began Saturday at No. 31 in the NET rankings and No. 25 at KenPom.com. Utah is at No. 34 in the NET and No. 40 at KenPom. . ... KJ Simpson (5-for-13) and Tristan da Silva (3-for-12) combined for an 8-for-25 mark during the Buffs' loss last year at Utah. ... Da Silva needs eight points to become the 25th CU player to reach the 1,200-point mark. ... Utah ranks last in the Pac-12 with a .653 free throw percentage. ... Lovering didn't attempt a 3-pointer in 52 games over two seasons with CU, but he is 2-for-7 from long range this season at Utah. He went 2-for-3 through the season's first three games but has attempted only four since. ... Guy Haberman and Earl Watson are set to call the game on Pac-12 Network.