What went right: CU shot .615 after halftime (16-for-26) and finished 19-for-24 at the free throw line. The Buffs also recorded a season-low with eight turnovers
What went wrong: USC turned 12 offensive rebounds into a 10-7 edge in second-chance points.
Star of the game: Tyler Bey. The sophomore forward continued his late-season surge by becoming the first CU player to record five straight double-doubles since Shaun Vandiver during the 1990-91 season. Bey finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds.
What's next: The Buffs will be the No. 5 seed at the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas, with a first-round date Wednesday afternoon against 12th-seeded Cal (3:30 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Network).
It was an opportunity the Colorado men's basketball team had been battling for throughout the final six weeks of the regular season. And head coach Tad Boyle admitted he was more than a little steamed watching his team squander the moment.
Needing a win to at least challenge for a top-four finish in the Pac-12 Conference, the Buffaloes instead struggled to put it together during the first 20 minutes against USC Saturday in the regular-season finale with a season-high crowd of 9,379 at the CU Events Center eager to throw their support behind the resurgent Buffs.
Trailing by seven at the break, CU responded as it has repeatedly during its late-season surge, dominating the second half for a 78-67 win. After a 2-6 start to league play, Saturday's win capped an 8-2 finish for the Buffs, who will go into the league tournament in Las Vegas as the No. 5 seed.
"We didn't quite answer the bell in the first half," Boyle said. "We were a little sluggish, kind of out of synch in that first half. We let some of our frustrations on offense affect the defense. We didn't have that eye-of-the-tiger that I thought we needed. I challenged our guys at halftime. Probably more than I have in quite some time. I think they responded. We played with a little more energy in the second half. We really rebounded, we really guarded, down the stretch."
CU went into the game with a chance at securing a top-four finish in the league, which includes a first-round bye at the tournament. However, the Buffs didn't get the help they needed, with Oregon State winning at Washington State and UCLA losing at Utah.
Instead, the Buffs will be the fifth seed for the fourth time in eight appearances at the Pac-12 tournament, with a first-round date looming on Wednesday afternoon against 12th-seeded Cal (3:30 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Network). The winner will play fourth-seeded Oregon State at the same in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
CU wasted an opportunity late in the first half when USC's top two scorers, Bennie Boatwright and Nick Rakocevic, sat the final 6 minutes, 39 seconds after they each picked up their second fouls. Instead of taking advantage of the situation, the Buffs instead watched a six-point USC lead balloon to 12 points before the Trojans took a 37-30 edge into halftime.
The Buffs opened the second half with 7-2 run and never slowed down, eventually pulling away down the stretch with a late 12-2 run. The game was tied at 50-50 with 9:43 remaining but CU outscored USC 28-17 the rest of the way. Overall, CU outscored the Trojans 48-30 in the second half.
As has been the case throughout the Buffs' stretch run, a number of players shared the load. Redshirt freshman Evan Battey scored a season-high 21 points, adding seven rebounds and three assists without a turnover. Tyler Bey posted his fifth consecutive double-double and his eighth in 10 games with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Point guard McKinley Wright also posted 17 points.
CU shot a torrid .615 (16-for-26) in the second half and finished 19-for-24 at the free throw line.
"Our energy was just bad, starting with me," Wright said. "Coach really stressed that. I told these guys I was going to pick it up for them. Having (Battey and Bey) battle with their bigs down there, they did a great job. Just having them to help the rest of the team really buy in on defense was the key."
COLORADO 78, SOUTHERN CAL 67
SOUTHERN CAL (15-16, 8-10)
Rakocevic 6-12 5-9 17, Boatwright 4-10 0-1 9, Mathews 5-14 2-2 13, Weaver 2-7 0-0 6, Aaron 2-4 0-0 4, Uyaelunmo 1-1 0-0 2, Brooks 0-3 0-0 0, Thornton 3-7 1-2 7, Porter 3-6 0-0 9. Totals 26-64 8-14 67.
COLORADO (19-11, 10-8)
Battey 9-14 3-4 21, M.Wright 5-11 5-6 17, Gatling 3-5 0-0 7, Bey 7-13 3-4 17, Schwartz 3-6 2-2 8, Siewert 1-3 2-2 4, Strating 0-0 0-2 0, Kountz 0-5 4-4 4. Totals 28-57 19-24 78.
Halftime — Southern Cal 37-30. 3-point goals — Southern Cal 7-20 (Porter 3-4, Weaver 2-4, Boatwright 1-4, Mathews 1-6, Aaron 0-1, Brooks 0-1), Colorado 3-12 (M.Wright 2-4, Gatling 1-3, Siewert 0-1, Schwartz 0-2, Kountz 0-2). Fouled out — Boatwright. Rebounds — Southern Cal 31 (Rakocevic 10), Colorado 40 (Bey 11). Assists — Southern Cal 8 (Weaver 4), Colorado 16 (Schwartz 4). Total fouls — Southern Cal 26, Colorado 16. A — 9,379.