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Emotional USC rivalry a chance for CU basketball to get right

No. 20 CU Buffs look to fix rebounding woes after loss at UCLA

Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Colorado’s Evan Battey and the Buffs have struggled rebounding in their last three road games.

LOS ANGELES — At 6-foot-8 and a hefty 262 pounds, it isn’t easy to put a fright into Evan Battey. Particularly when he is in his native southern California, surrounded by friends and family.

And yet after a lackluster effort on the glass led to a defeat for No. 20 Colorado at UCLA on Thursday night, the Buffaloes’ third-year sophomore forward admitted to more than a little apprehension regarding the current state of the Buffs.

The loss against the Bruins was CU’s second consecutive on the road, and in three Pac-12 Conference games away from home, the Buffs have surrendered a whopping total of 43 offensive rebounds. For a team that typically has prided itself on its rebounding prowess throughout coach Tad Boyle’s 10-year tenure, it is a surprising shortcoming the Buffs will have to fix in a hurry before visiting a streaking USC team on Saturday night.

“I’m scared, actually,” Battey said. “I know we’re going to fix it, but for right now I’m scared because teams are going to watch this tape and go to the glass like UCLA did.

“Coach Boyle does the best he can to mostly emphasize on execution. You can lead to horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. We have to take that into account and really listen to coach and apply what coach is saying in the game and on the floor. Because it’s not working right now.”

Although the Buffs have lacked interior aggression on the road, particularly at Arizona and UCLA, a visit to USC’s Galen Center might prove to be a welcome remedy.

The matchups between CU and the Trojans, particularly in Los Angeles, have been contentious the past two seasons. It began with nothing that had anything to do directly with USC, when Boyle uttered his infamous “Hell yes” response two years ago when asked if beating Arizona — which, like USC, had recently been enveloped in the FBI college basketball recruiting scandal — meant more in light of the program’s off-court woes.

Four days later, the Trojans were moments away from icing a 12-point home win against the Buffs when USC coach Andy Enfield called a timeout with 21 seconds and spent the break clapping and celebrating with his team before running a set play.

The Buffs enjoyed some memorable payback at USC last year with 69-65 win that clinched just the second two-game road sweep for the Buffs in Pac-12 play since joining the league. Boyle punctuated the win with an emphatic fist-pump directed at the CU fan section, touching off a wild postgame scene that included a brief but terse exchange between Boyle and USC assistant Jason Hart, as well as a jubilant bear hug between Boyle and CU athletic director Rick George.

Still, Boyle insisted his team needs to be focused less on the recent friction between the programs and more on the issues that led to 18 second-chance points and 22 fast-break points for UCLA on Thursday.

“It doesn’t matter who we play next. It’s about taking care of Colorado,” Boyle said. “It’s not about playing USC next. It’s about taking care of our business and doing what we’re supposed to do, which is handle pressure, which we didn’t do in the first half (at UCLA). You combine the 18 second-chance points with the 22 fast-break points, and you’ve got 40 points there that we had a lot to do with. Our transition defense, and our ineffectiveness on offense, and our live-ball turnovers that lead to layups. That’s on us. That’s 40 points that are on us. UCLA took advantage of us.

“When I say look inwardly, we’re going to take care of the ball, and boxing out and limiting them to one shot.”

No. 20 CU Buffs at USC Trojans

TIPOFF: Saturday, 8:30 p.m. MT, Galen Center, Los Angeles.

BROADCAST: TV — Fox Sports 1; Radio — KOA 850 AM and 94.1 FM.

RECORDS: Colorado 16-5, 5-3 Pac-12 Conference; USC 17-4, 6-2.

COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 10th season (205-128, 261-194 overall); USC — Andy Enfield, 7th season (127-97, 168-125 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — G McKinley Wright IV, Jr. 13.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 5.1 apg; F Tyler Bey, Jr., 13.2 ppg, 9.0 rpg; G/F D’Shawn Schwartz, Jr., 10.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, .398 3-point percentage; F Evan Battey, R-So., 9.2 ppg, 6.5 rpg. USC — F Onyeka Okongwu, Fr., 17.0 ppg, 9.1 rpg, .615 field goal percentage; G Jonah Matthews, Sr., 13.0 ppg, .374 3-point percentage; F Nick Rakocevic, Sr., 11.2 ppg, 8.6 rpg.

WHAT TO WATCH: The Buffs need to fix their rebounding woes. USC began the week leading the Pac-12 in rebounding margin in league games, but Utah proved on Thursday the Trojans still can be bested on the glass by outrebounding the Trojans 36-34.

NOTES: Thursday’s loss at UCLA dropped the Buffs to No. 20 in the NET and No. 26 at KenPom.com in Friday’s rankings…Since CU joined the Pac-12, the Buffs and USC have never split a season series, with one team or the other producing a sweep every year…CU leads the all-time series 11-7, including a 9-4 mark since joining the Pac-12…CU backup guard Daylen Kountz has struggled lately, going 2-for-12 over the past four games…USC is coming off a 56-52 home win against Utah on Thursday. Rakocevic led the way with 16 points and 15 rebounds…USC freshman guard Ethan Anderson, who was recruited by CU, has started 19 games and is averaging 5.5 points and a team-leading 4.8 assists. Anderson boasts a solid assist-to-turnover rate of 1.85…The Buffs return home next week to host Cal on Thursday and Stanford on Saturday.