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Third straight win at USC’s Galen Center the goal for CU Buffs men’s basketball

Tad Boyle optimistic regarding point guard McKinley Wright’s injured ankle

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Tad Boyle could not, or perhaps would not, reveal the extent of the ankle injury suffered earlier this week by his star point guard.

Yet Colorado’s men’s basketball coach knows this much: If McKinley Wright IV can play, he will play.

As the Buffaloes attempt to bounce back from a disappointing Pac-12 Conference opener with a visit to USC on Thursday night, the state of Wright’s right ankle will take center stage. CU’s senior floor general suffered the injury late during the Buffs’ 88-74 loss at Arizona on Monday, and he was favoring his leg heavily on the bench as the final seconds ticked away.

“It’s getting better. I think he’ll be OK,” Boyle said. “McKinley is a tough guy. If he can play, he will.”

Colorado’s McKinley Wright drives past an Arizona defender on Monday in Tucson, Ariz.Photo by Simon Asher / Arizona Athletics

Any absence by Wright, either on Thursday or beyond, would be problematic for a Buffs team that leans heavily upon Wright in all facets of their game. If Wright is back up to speed on Thursday, the Buffs will take aim at a foe they have fared well against on the road in recent seasons.

A contentious rivalry between the programs was sparked three years ago at the Galen Center when USC coach Andy Enfield took a late time out to cheer alongside his squad in the waning seconds of a game the Trojans had in the can. The Buffs have posted season sweeps against USC each of the past two seasons, including two straight wins at the Galen Center.

“I don’t think there’s any rhyme or reason, to be honest with you,” Boyle said. “I know for Evan (Battey) this is a big game. He’s a southern California kid and he gets up for this game. I’m sure he gets his teammates up for it as well. He feels the same way about UCLA and we haven’t played well there, so I don’t know.”

Indeed, Battey has played well in two games at the Galen Center, going a combined 9-for-16 from the field and 4-for-4 at the free throw line while averaging 11.5 points and five rebounds. While the Buffs will be seeking their first Pac-12 victory, USC will be playing its first league game after a three-week hiatus due to coronavirus concerns.

On Tuesday, the Trojans played for the first time since Dec. 8, recording an 86-63 home win against Santa Clara. Four players scored in double figures for a USC team that shot .466 overall and 50% from 3-point range (7-for-14). It will be the Buffs’ first look at USC freshman Evan Mobley, the 7-foot forward who was ranked third nationally in the 2020 recruiting class in the ESPN100.

USC enters the game leading the Pac-12 in field goal percentage (.492) and scoring (80.8).

“The way they played against Santa Clara (Tuesday) night, it didn’t look like they skipped a beat,” Boyle said. “They’re a talented team. Isaiah Mobley is a year older, a year bigger. They’ve got some shooting and they’ve got great size. You look at their numbers offensively, you look at their numbers defensively, they’re a pretty darn good team.”

CU Buffs men’s basketball at USC Trojans

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

BROADCAST: TV — ESPN; Radio — 850 AM and 94.1 FM.

RECORDS: Colorado 6-2, 0-1 Pac-12 Conference: USC 5-1, 0-0.

COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 11th season (216-136, 272-202 overall); USC — Andy Enfield, 8th season (137-103, 178-131 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — G McKinley Wright, Sr., 15.5 ppg, 5.6 apg, 4.8 rpg; F Jeriah Horne, Sr., 10.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg; F Evan Battey, R-Jr., 9.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg; C Dallas Walton, Sr., 9.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg. USC — F Evan Mobley, Fr., 17.5 ppg, 8.7 rpg; G Tahj Eaddy, R-Sr., 11.3 ppg, 2.2 rpg; F Drew Peterson, Jr., 11.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.2 apg.

WHAT TO WATCH: The Buffs began the season as a premier defensive team but have struggled in the past two games, allowing each of the past two opponents to shoot at least 50%. CU will be challenged to get that corrected against a USC squad that gets good looks inside and leads the Pac-12 in field goal percentage.

NOTES: On Wednesday the tipoff time was moved back one hour to 8 p.m. MT, with the game now airing on ESPN. It originally was slated for ESPN2…In their past two games at the Galen Center, both victories, CU has shot .505 overall with an .875 mark on free throws (28-for-32)…The Buffs lead the all-time series 13-7 and have won the past four matchups…CU senior D’Shawn Schwartz is closing in on the Buffs’ all-time list for made 3-pointers. Schwartz’s 10-for-18 start from the arc has given him 120 career made 3-pointers. Levi Knutson and Donnie Boyce are tied for 10th all-time with 129…USC’s recent 20-day hiatus between games was its longest in-season layoff since 1967…USC’s Isaiah Mobley (8.8 rpg) and Evan Mobley (8.7) rank third and fourth, respectively, in the Pac-12 in rebounding…CU completes its Pac-12-opening three-game road swing on Saturday at UCLA (6 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Networks).