What went right: The Buffs were solid defensively, holding USC to a 3-for-19 mark on 3-pointers, and CU's 11 3-pointers was its most since making 13 in the season opener.
What went wrong: Seventeen CU turnovers resulted in 20 points for USC, and the Buffs surrendered 17 offensive rebounds. CU also went 3-for-9 at the free throw line in the second half.
Star of the game: Xavier Johnson. The senior's 3-pointer at the shot clock buzzer gave the Buffs a lead they couldn't hold with 43.1 seconds remaining. He finished with 15 points, seven rebounds, and two assists.
What's next: The Buffs return to the road to face the University of Washington on Wednesday at 9 p.m. MST.
Tad Boyle says he still believes in his team, and that they are close to a breakthrough.
However, time is steadily running out on the Colorado men's basketball team to fulfill its lofty preseason expectations from just a few months ago.
Unable to sustain an early 3-point barrage while surrendering far too many second-chance points and points off turnovers, CU suffered a heartbreaking 71-68 loss against No. 25 USC Sunday night at the Coors Events Center.
The loss dropped the reeling Buffs to 0-5 in the Pac-12 Conference, the program's first 0-5 start in league play since the 1995-96 season. Reversing the momentum will be challenging in a short turnaround before a Wednesday night date at Washington, where the Buffs have lost eight of their past nine games.
It is the Buffs' first five-game losing streak in Boyle's seven seasons at the helm and their first since they lost the final 12 games of the 2008-09 season.
"Our team is hurting right now," Boyle said. "This is a time where we're being tested and we have to believe in ourselves, and believe in the process, believe in what we're trying to get done. The bottom line is we weren't good enough tonight. We weren't good enough defensively in terms of finishing off possessions. We were good enough on first-shot defense, but we weren't good enough on boxing out and finishing possessions."
The Buffs knocked down 11 3-pointers and generally played solid defense, holding the Trojans to a .394 overall field goal percentage and a 3-for-19 mark on 3-pointers.
However, CU's woes can be pinpointed to two specific shortcomings — the 17 turnovers that turned into 20 points for USC, and the Trojans' 17 offensive rebounds that led to 16 second-chance points. At one point during the back-and-forth second half, USC posted three consecutive baskets off offensive rebounds.
Going just 7-for-13 at the free throw line certainly didn't help, either.
"Seventeen offensive rebounds and 17 turnovers on offense, it's a pretty simple formula for getting beat," Boyle said. "It doesn't matter who you're playing."
A Derrick White-to-Xavier Johnson layup pulled CU into a 57-57 tie with nine minutes remaining, but the Buffs promptly went about six minutes without a field goal. USC took a 67-60 lead on a 3-pointer by Jonah Mathews with 2 minutes, 44 seconds remaining, but CU responded with a rebound basket by George King followed by a 3-pointer from Johnson to get within two.
Johnson came through yet again with a 3-pointer at the shot clock buzzer to give CU a 68-67 lead with 43.1 seconds left, but the Trojans' Chimezie Metu immediately answered to put USC back in front. Two free throws from Elijah Stewart with 12.4 seconds left pushed the Trojans' lead to 71-68, and King's desperate attempt at a tying 3-pointer at the buzzer went awry.
King finished with 16 points and nine rebounds for the Buffs, while Johnson added 15 points and seven rebounds. Metu scored a career-high 24 points to pace USC.
"We have confident players. The coaches did a great job recruiting confident players," King said. "We're still confident within ourselves, and we're still confident as a group, as a team. That's not going to be an issue. It's hard to say that when you look at our record, but we're still a confident team."
No. 25 USC 71, CU 68
SOUTHERN CAL (16-3, 3-3)
Buggs 0-1 0-0 0, Metu 11-14 2-2 24, Melton 3-13 0-0 6, McLaughlin 3-10 2-2 9, Stewart 3-9 5-6 11, Rakocevic 1-3 2-6 4, Henderson 0-0 0-0 0, Mathews 3-9 3-4 11, Aaron 2-6 2-2 6. Totals 26-65 16-22 71.
COLORADO (10-8, 0-5)
Gordon 0-1 2-4 2, King 6-13 0-2 16, Brown 0-0 0-0 0, White 4-13 1-2 10, Johnson 6-11 1-2 15, Miller 3-3 0-0 6, Siewert 0-0 0-0 0, Fortune 2-4 0-0 5, Peters 1-4 0-0 3, Collier 3-7 3-3 11, Akyazili 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-56 7-13 68.
Halftime — Colorado 35-34. 3-Point Goals — Southern Cal 3-19 (Mathews 2-7, McLaughlin 1-4, Buggs 0-1, Aaron 0-1, Melton 0-2, Stewart 0-4), Colorado 11-24 (King 4-8, Johnson 2-2, Collier 2-4, Fortune 1-2, Peters 1-2, White 1-5, Gordon 0-1). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — Southern Cal 36 (Melton 10), Colorado 35 (King 9). Assists — Southern Cal 12 (Melton 6), Colorado 14 (White 5). Total Fouls — Southern Cal 15, Colorado 20.