What went right: The Buffs shot 64 percent in the second half (16-for-25) and outrebounded USC 38-29. CU also went 13-for-15 at the free throw line.
What went wrong: The Buffs’ 12 turnovers led to a sizeable 15-2 edge for USC in points off turnovers.
Star of the game: McKinley Wright. The sophomore point guard was in control during a back-and-forth game, finishing with 20 points, eight rebounds, and three assists in 38 minutes.
What’s next: The Buffs return home to host the Arizona schools, a run that begins Wednesday against Arizona State (8:30 p.m., FS1).
LOS ANGELES — It was a showdown Tad Boyle did his best to downplay, saying his team’s battle Saturday night at USC was equally important as the win his Colorado basketball team picked up Wednesday night at UCLA.
In terms of the Pac-12 Conference standings and his own team’s growing momentum, that assessment was on the money. But as Boyle’s own fiery reaction revealed when the clock hit zero, this wasn’t just another win.
On Saturday the Buffaloes achieved something they had done only once in 30 previous attempts by earning a two-game sweep on the road within the Pac-12, finishing strong down the stretch to post a 69-65 victory at the Galen Center. Moreover, the victory gave the Buffs some long-sought payback for last year’s loss at USC, when Trojans coach Andy Enfield answered Boyle’s comments about having extra satisfaction at defeating the Pac-12 rivals embroiled in the FBI corruption probe by calling a rub-it-in your face timeout in the waning seconds with the Trojans well in control.
As the final seconds ticked away Saturday, Boyle gave an emphatic fist pump to the CU faithful behind the Buffs bench. His enthusiasm led to an exchange of words with USC assistant Jason Hart, though the pair quickly cooled down and shook hands.
“I was a little bit too emotional and I said something I meant to say to our team, and I think they took it like I was saying it to them. That was my fault,” Boyle said. “I meant no disrespect by it. But this game meant a lot to me. I don’t forget what happened last year with the timeout. But I have a lot of respect for their staff and their assistants. I apologized and I told them I meant no disrespect to their team.”
One of the shortcomings Boyle often pointed out during his team’s struggles in late December and early January was a lack of mental toughness displayed by the Buffs. Yet CU may have turned a corner on that front during the trip in general and against the Trojans in particular.
The game was tied 65-65 when CU point guard McKinley Wright broke free for a go-ahead layup with 1 minute, 36 seconds remaining. The Buffs then put together a defensive stop, with Tyler Bey grabbing the last of his seven rebounds. D’Shawn Schwartz calmly knocked down a pair of free throws with 14.2 seconds left to give the Buffs a four-point advantage.
“I don’t think anyone understands how good this feels, especially with what they tried to do to us last year here,” Wright said. “To be able to come in here and get this win means so much to me, this team, the coaching staff, Buff Nation and everybody in general. It’s a huge one for us.”
CU’s forwards had their hands full with USC’s Bennie Boatwright, who led all scorers with 24 points. Bey, Lucas Siewert, and Evan Battey all battled foul trouble, with Siewert eventually fouling out with 2:53 to go. But the Buffs made the plays down the stretch. Schwartz scored seven of his 13 points in the final 4:02, and CU turned in another clutch performance at the free throw line, going 13-for-15.
Wright paced the Buffs with 20 points, eight rebounds, and three assists, while Battey came off the bench to contribute 14 points and six rebounds with a large contingent of his friends and family cheering from behind CU’s bench.
“It feels so good,” Battey said. “I know that coach wanted to beat these guys bad, and we did that.”
COLORADO 69, SOUTHERN CAL 65
COLORADO (14-9, 5-6)
Siewert 3-6 4-5 12, M.Wright 9-14 1-1 20, Gatling 3-7 0-0 7, Bey 1-4 0-0 2, Schwartz 5-12 3-3 13, Strating 0-0 0-0 0, Battey 5-7 4-4 14, Kountz 0-2 0-0 0, Parquet 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 26-53 13-15 69.
SOUTHERN CAL (13-11, 6-5)
Boatwright 8-15 5-6 24, Rakocevic 3-6 2-6 8, Mathews 3-6 2-2 8, Thornton 2-9 1-2 7, Aaron 5-10 1-1 13, Brooks 0-0 0-0 0, Uyaelunmo 0-0 0-0 0, Porter 2-7 1-2 5, Weaver 0-4 0-0 0. Totals 23-57 12-19 65.
Halftime — 29-29. 3-point goals — Colorado 4-20 (Siewert 2-5, Gatling 1-4, M.Wright 1-5, Kountz 0-1, Parquet 0-1, Schwartz 0-4), Southern Cal 7-24 (Boatwright 3-6, Thornton 2-5, Aaron 2-5, Rakocevic 0-1, Porter 0-2, Weaver 0-2, Mathews 0-3). Fouled out — Siewert. Rebounds — Colorado 37 (M.Wright 8), Southern Cal 27 (Thornton 7). Assists — Colorado 11 (M.Wright 3), Southern Cal 12 (Boatwright 4). Total fouls — Colorado 19, Southern Cal 14. A — 3,974.