CU men’s basketball preview: USC
MATCHUP: Colorado Buffaloes (19-7, 8-5 Pac-12 Conference) at USC Trojans (18-7, 7-5).
GAME TIME: Wednesday, 9 p.m. MST, Galen Center.
BROADCAST: Radio — 760 AM; TV — ESPNU.
COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, sixth season (127-75, 183-141 overall); USC — Andy Enfield, third season (41-48, 82-76 overall).
LEADERS: Colorado — Scoring: F/C Josh Scott, Sr., 16.7 ppg; Rebounding: Scott, 9.1 rpg; Assists: G Dom Collier, So., 3.0 apg. USC — Scoring: G Jordan McLaughlin, So., 12.7 ppg; Rebounding: F Nikola Jovanovic, Jr., 7.4 rpg; Assists: G Julian Jacobs, Jr., 5.8 apg.
NOTABLE: Scott has missed the past two games due to an ankle injury, and while he continues to improve coach Tad Boyle said his status will be a game-time decision. … CU’s visit to USC last year was a memorable one, with the Buffs prevailing in triple overtime. … Since-graduated guard Askia Booker scored a career-high 43 points for CU, and current USC players Katin Reinhardt and Jovanovic both reached the 30-point mark for the Trojans. … CU has gone 7-0 against USC since joining the Pac-12. … Wesley Gordon has recorded three consecutive double-doubles for the Buffs, averaging 15 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots during that span. … A CU team that has recorded the third-most turnovers in the league has had two of its worst turnover performances of the season in the past three games, recording 22 Saturday against Washington and a season-most 24 at Oregon State on Feb. 6.
Sometimes drawing up the most relevant points of a defensive game plan is relatively simple.
When Washington State comes to town, the object is to make double-double machine Josh Hawkinson work for every scrap of his production. The same goes when facing Pac-12 Conference leading scorer Andrew Andrews of Washington, or Utah’s interior dynamo, Jakob Poeltl.
Such is not the case when taking on the USC Trojans, a team that will present a defensive challenge unlike any other the Colorado Buffaloes will face this season when the teams collide Wednesday night in another critical Pac-12 showdown.
Deep, balanced and athletic, a Trojans team widely regarded as the most improved in the league can hurt an opponent in any number of ways. And USC brings a perfect 14-0 mark at home into the matchup.
“How many teams have six players averaging double figures in the country?” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “I don’t know the answer to that, but there’s not many. They’re extremely talented in the backcourt. Julian Jacobs is a much, much improved player over last year. Jordan McLaughlin, we knew how good he was coming out of high school and he’s healthy now. Those two guys, you look at their assist-to-turnover ratio, they make the other guys better.”
USC features a whopping five players averaging between 12 and the 12.7 average owned by leading scorer McLaughlin. With Jacobs leading the league in assists and McLaughlin ranking a close fourth, each one of the Trojans’ six double-figure scorers except Jacobs has enjoyed one game with at least 23 points this season.
“When it comes to teams like this, what they’re really good at is transition,” said CU sophomore George King. “If we can stop them in transition and hold them to one shot, I think we can put ourselves in position to win. USC, they’re a really fast offensive team. If we can stop that, we’ll be OK.”
A CU team already prone to turnovers will be tasked with limiting the giveaways against a team that typically looks to run and ranks second in the Pac-12 with a scoring average of 83.1. The sharpshooting Buffaloes and their league-leading 3-point percentage of .396 also will be challenged by a USC defense that ranks second in the Pac-12 in overall defensive field goal percentage (.401) and first in 3-point defensive percentage (.305).
USC also ranks just behind CU with a 3-point percentage of .386.
“The challenge is we have to take them out of their transition,” Boyle said. “We have to get back in transition. We have to take them out of their transition, especially at home, because they feed off of dunks and layups and getting their juices flowing. And so we have to take away easy baskets. They’re capable of making jump shots, but we have to make them make jump shots.”