D’Shawn Schwartz is hoping to enjoy a late birthday celebration.
It was a forgettable 21st birthday for Schwartz during Saturday’s win at Oregon State, with the Colorado junior wing going 0-for-8 while going scoreless for the first time since his fifth game of the 2018-19 season. Moreover, Schwartz took a shot to his face that forced him to leave the game for good with 13 minutes, 9 seconds remaining due to a bloody nose.
Earlier this week, Schwartz reported that he suffered a slight fracture above the bridge of his nose, but he does not expect to limit him as the 18th-ranked Buffaloes tip off their final homestand of the season Thursday night against USC (7 p.m., ESPN2).
“It’s really tender. Especially in the upper region. It’s only happened once this year, so I’ll play the odds,” Schwartz said. “I think I’ll be fine. I don’t think in any way I’ll be limited. Just go out there and play hard. Definitely have a big stretch ahead of us and we need to win all five (games left). I’ll sacrifice whatever I have to to get these wins.”
Schwartz said he experimented with wearing a protective mask during practice this week but didn’t find it comfortable, joking, “I had the option. They didn’t have one that was big enough for my head.”
USC front line
USC’s standout freshman Onyeka Okongwu missed the Trojans’ games last week — home wins against the Washington schools — but the Buffs prepared this week assuming the 6-foot-9 forward will be in the lineup.
During the Buffs’ dominant 78-57 win at USC on Feb. 1, CU did a commendable job of holding down the USC frontcourt of Okongwu, Nick Rakocevic, and Isaiah Mobley, holding that trio to a combined 11-for-24 mark. Much of that damage was done off the bench by Mobley, who went 5-for-8 with 12 points, while starters Okongwu and Rakocevic went 6-for-16 with 17 points.
“They’re a very, very talented team. They’re front line is as talented as any front line not only in our league, but the country,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “When you think about Okongwu and Rakocevic and Mobley, those three guys are really, really good players.”
Going into Thursday’s game, Rakocevic needs just six rebounds to surpass 11-year NBA veteran Taj Gibson for second-place all-time in USC history. Okongwu’s 69 blocked shots are tied for the fifth-most all-time among freshmen in the Pac-12 Conference.
Though they play different positions, with about eight inches of height between them, seniors Lucas Siewert and Shane Gatling have featured similar shooting styles, and career paths, during their time at CU.
Gatling started the bulk of his first season with the Buffs last year due in large part to the academic issues suffered by former Buffs player Deleon Brown. He resumed the starting role for the stretch run of his senior season after sophomores Eli Parquet and Daylen Kountz received the first shots at winning the job.
Siewert has started 31 games in his career but just one this season, as a one-game injury replacement for Tyler Bey on Jan. 23 against Washington State.
“We always challenge our players — what can you do to help this team when you’re not scoring? I think Lucas has figured that out. Shane has found that out,” Boyle said. “(Gatling) can be a four, five-assist, one-turnover guy certain nights. Certain nights we want him to score the ball, we need him to score the ball. But he’s become a better defender. I thought Shane showed great sacrifice the first part of the season when he was coming off the bench. Now he’s been starting since league play started, and Lucas has been coming off the bench all year after starting most of the year last year. But Lucas is playing starter’s minutes. Shane is playing starter’s minutes. And really, at the end of day that’s what they care about and you can only start five guys.”
As the duo enters their final homestand at the CU Events Center, they do so in an odd situation as the oldest players on a team driven by its junior class. Yet their teammates say their leadership has been no less important than that of juniors like Schwartz, Bey, McKinley Wright, and redshirt sophomore Evan Battey.
“I would say Lucas is, he keeps everyone up,” Bey said. “Even when he’s having a bad game, which is kind of rare for him. He’s never down. He’s always just positive about things. If he does have a bad game, he’s going to come in the next morning and get shots up. He’s a great leader.
“I’ve known him since high school and I feel like we’ve gotten closer. I think that he’s gotten more confident. He’s just going out there doing his thing. (Gatling) is just like Lucas. When he’s not having a good game, he’s making sure someone else does. He’s making sure the bench is staying positive. And he’s a great shooter. For us to have him is great. He’s a big part of this team. They both are.”
Last year, CU finished with a .753 free throw percentage, which ranked third all-time in team history. The Buffs are on pace for another all-time showing at the line, as their .738 mark currently ranks sixth all-time…CU point guard McKinley Wright ranks 22nd all-time at CU in scoring with 1,263 points. Next up is Pat Frink (1,288)…USC senior Jonah Mathews owns 236 career made 3-pointers and is closing in on the Trojans’ all-time lead. Mathews ranks third and will soon pass Bennie Boatwright (243) and all-time leader Elijah Stewart (245)…The Buffs begin Thursday at No. 12 in the NET rankings and No. 17 at KenPom.com.