CU men's basketball preview: USC

MATCHUP: No. 25 USC Trojans (15-3, 2-3) at Colorado Buffaloes (10-7, 0-4).

GAME TIME: Sunday, 6:30 p.m., Coors Events Center.

BROADCAST: TV — ESPNU; Radio — 850 AM & 94.1 FM.

COACHES: USC — Andy Enfield, 4th season (59-57, 100-85 career); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 7th season (140-87, 196-153 overall).

LEADERS: USC — Scoring: G Jordan McLaughlin, Jr. 14.2 ppg; Rebounding: F Chimezie Metu, So., 7.9 rpg; Assists: McLauglin, 4.9 apg. Colorado — Scoring: G Derrick White, Sr., 16.0 ppg; Rebounding: F Wesley Gordon, Sr., 7.9 rpg; Assists: White, 3.9 apg.

NOTABLE: CU is playing its third consecutive game against a ranked opponent. The Buffs are 2-2 against ranked teams this season. ... CU is 0-4 in conference play for the first time since the 2008-09 season, when the Buffs were in the Big 12. ... White has made 42 of his last 45 free throws; he ranks fourth in the Pac-12 in free throw shooting at 83.7 percent. ... Xavier Johnson (15.1 ppg) led the Buffs with 21 points in a 104-89 loss to UCLA on Thursday. He has led the team in scoring eight times this year, including the last two games. ... The Buffs are 6-0 when leading at the half, and 3-7 when trailing at the half (1-0 when the game is tied at the break). ... CU is 8-0 when holding the opposition under 70 points. ...


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USC has lost three of its last four, including an 86-64 loss at Utah on Thursday.

While the Colorado men's basketball team is struggling to find the win column in conference play, its confidence is still intact.

On Sunday, the Buffaloes (10-7, 0-4 Pac-12) will host 25th-ranked Southern California (15-3, 2-3) at Coors Events Center. They are desperate for a win, and believe they're close to breaking through.

"Just keep fighting," senior Xavier Johnson said of how the Buffs are maintaining their confidence. "We know what we're capable of, we know we can score the ball, we know we can all hoop and do what we do best. We just have to go out there and get wins and put them in the (win) column."

CU is tied with Oregon State for last in the Pac-12, but the Buffs believe they've played better basketball in the past few games.

On Jan. 1, the Buffs had a rough day in 76-60 loss at Utah. Since then, they've lost by one point at Arizona State in the closing seconds, battled with No. 16 Arizona in a road loss, and, on Thursday night, became the latest victim of No. 4 UCLA.

One of the most talented teams in the country, the sizzling Bruins were too much for the Buffs, who played well offensively in beating the Buffs 104-89.

"The two last games that we've lost, we played against tops teams that could potentially win it all," Johnson said. "Even though we have losses on our record, it shows progress."

The Buffs, of course, want that progress to produce wins. To do that, head coach Tad Boyle is staying positive and telling his players to focus only on the next task.

"You talk about the next game; you don't talk about the fact that you're 0-4," Boyle said. "They're reminded about it, I'm sure, by the media, and I don't get involved with social media a lot, but I'm sure they're hearing about it there, too.

"It's all about just keeping things positive and understanding what do we have to do to beat USC? That's our focus."

Maintaining confidence is a key, and freshman Bryce Peters said he hasn't seen a drop off in that area.

"I would say (confidence) is pretty high," he said. "Nobody is shying away from anything. We know that the rest of our schedule we can beat any team in the Pac-12. Even though we've got an 0-4 start, I can tell you that this team does play hard. These guys have a lot of heart, which I like."

They'll need that against USC, which has a talented roster, but comes into Boulder on a slump of its own. The Trojans have lost three of four and got thumped at Utah on Thursday, 86-64.

"It's going to be two teams that desperately are looking for a win on Sunday, so it should be a hell of a game," Boyle said. "It's a winnable game, but we're going to have play well, because USC is certainly not going to hand it to us."

Defensively, the Buffs have to be better than they were against UCLA. The Bruins have some of the best offensive talent in the country, but CU gave up 19 3-pointers — a UCLA record — many of them coming on open looks at the hoop.

UCLA wasn't the only team to find success against CU's defense.

During conference play, CU opponents have connected on 50 percent of their shots (120 of 240). The Buffs aim to hold opponents below 40 percent, but all four Pac-12 foes have connected at 43.6 percent or better.

The Buffs have been solid on the boards, however, and they've played well at times offensively. Five players scored in double figures against UCLA.

Starting with Sunday's game against USC, the Buffs are hoping they can put together a solid performance and finally find the win column.

"Hopefully Sunday is going to be our first win and we can carry it on to Washington and Washington State and hopefully continue winning from there," Johnson said. "Once we get that first win and we see how it feels, we'll be able to continue doing that."

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.