The Colorado women's soccer team remains on track for one of the most successful regular seasons in program history.
Yet in terms of the Buffaloes challenging the handful of nationally-prominent programs at the top of the Pac-12 Conference, CU remains on the outside looking in.
Thursday's performance against No. 2-ranked USC was a far more encouraging exercise than the beat-down the Buffs suffered four days earlier at top-ranked Stanford, but the result wasn't any less disappointing as the Trojans escaped Prentup Field with a 1-0 victory.
After going unbeaten through the season's first 16 games, the Buffs will take consecutive losses into a third straight top-10 battle Sunday at home against No. 8 UCLA (2 p.m., Pac-12 Network).
USC's Leah Pruitt scored the game's only goal in the 25th minute, collecting a rebound of a Penelope Hocking shot to bury her 11th goal of the season while CU goalie JJ Tompkins was left scrambling after making the initial save on Hocking.
"We felt we were going to bounce back. At home, and we know the quality of USC, so we knew it was going to be a bit of an uphill battle," CU head coach Danny Sanchez said. "I don't always say that I'm super proud, but I thought they stayed in the game, and some players laid it all on the line for us. It just didn't happen for us."
The Buffs, who dropped a 7-0 decision at Stanford on Sunday, received a golden opportunity to strike first early after an unusual sequence. A back-pass by USC momentarily eluded USC goalie Kaylie Collins, forcing her to prevent an own-goal with a diving stop on the end line.
A goalie using her hands on a back-pass, however, is illegal, and the Buffs were awarded the odd indirect kick from the six-yard line. With Collins and most of the Trojans' team situated on the goal line, the attempt by CU's Taylor Kornieck was deflected, as was Sarah Kinzner's rebound chance.
Afterward, chances were few and far between for the Buffs. CU's top three goal-scorers — Kornieck, Jorian Baucom and Tatum Barton — have combined to score 31 goals this season but have produced only three combined shots on goal in the losses against Stanford and USC. Barton, though, had a chance to tie the game during a mad scramble in the waning seconds, but her shot deflected off the left post.
"I'm pleased with our effort. I'm pleased with our execution. Just not quite sharp enough," Sanchez said. "There's a reason they've only given up seven goals in 17 games. They're hard to score on. Credit to USC. But I also think we can take some positives from it."
A moment of silence was held prior to kickoff for Utah track athlete Lauren McCluskey, who was shot and killed Monday night in Salt Lake City, allegedly by a former boyfriend who had lied about his identity and his status as a registered sex offender...CU senior Megan Massey left the match in the 55th minute due to a lower right leg injury and did not return...The Buffs have set a program record with 45 goals and had been shut out only once all season — a scoreless draw against Colorado State in the season's second game — before going scoreless in the past two games.
No. 2 USC 1, No. 20 Colorado 0
At Prentup FieldUSC (15-1-1, 8-1) 1 0 — 1
Goals (assists) — USC: Pruitt (Hocking), 25th minute.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — USC: Collins (90-0-5); CU: Tompkins (90-1-11).