Following a second-half letdown on Monday that led to a loss at Arizona in Colorado’s Pac-12 Conference opener, head coach Tad Boyle expressed optimism his club would learn from the experience. Much like he believed they had when the Buffaloes suffered their first loss of the season against nationally-ranked Tennessee in early December.
Whatever soul-searching and adjustments the Buffs made during the week, it certainly paid off on Thursday, as the Buffs took control over the final 30 minutes at USC to post a 72-62 win for their first victory in Pac-12 play.
It was CU’s fifth consecutive victory against USC and the Buffs’ third straight win at the Trojans’ Galen Center.
“A road win against a quality team in this league is hard to come by. So we’ll take the win,” Boyle said. “We battled them on the boards. We were giving up size. USC is long and tall and they’ve got good athletes. I thought our guys really battled tonight and showed a lot of grit and a lot of toughness.”
The Buffs led through the bulk of the first half, scoring seven consecutive points to take a 32-21 lead with 7 minutes, 35 seconds remaining in the half. USC answered with a 10-0 run to pull within a point, but CU responded by outscoring the Trojans 12-2 over the final 4:42 of the first half, building a 44-33 lead at the break.
The Buffs extended their lead to 15 points early in the second half and held an 11-point lead after a Maddox Daniels 3-pointer with about 11 minutes left. But USC put together a run, scoring nine consecutive points to get within 57-55 with 9:40 remaining.
Four consecutive free throws by D’Shawn Schwartz gave the Buffs much-needed breathing room and began an 11-3 run that allowed CU to hold off the Trojans down the stretch.
CU point guard McKinley Wright IV suffered an ankle injury late in Monday’s loss at Arizona, but the senior didn’t appear limited whatsoever against the Trojans, going 7-for-13 from the field before finishing with 19 points, four rebounds, four assists, and three steals. With his sixth point of the night, Wright became the 11th CU player to score at least 1,500 points in his career.
“We needed to bounce back,” Wright said. “We knew USC was a talented team, has some really good pieces. We knew we just had to come together and win. Obviously we’ve had success here over the last couple of years. We knew we could come in and get this one.”
Schwartz also enjoyed a big night, posting the first double-double of his career with 13 points and a career-high 10 rebounds. Forward Evan Battey enjoyed another strong game near his southern California hometown, finishing with 11 points and five rebounds. And Jeriah Horne, getting his first start with CU in place of injured 7-footer Dallas Walton, contributed 10 points and five rebounds.
After getting outrebounded in its previous two games, CU outrebounded the Trojans 38-35. USC entered Thursday’s game leading the Pac-12 in field goal percentage (.492) and scoring (80.8). The Buffs harassed USC into a .383 mark from the field while holding the Trojans to more than 18 points under their scoring average.
USC’s talented frontcourt brother tandem of Isaiah Mobley and Evan Mobley entered the game averaging a combined 27.5 points and 17.5 rebounds but managed just 21 points and 12 rebounds against the Buffs.
“We knew it was going to be battle,” Schwartz said. “Obviously we were undersized without Dallas, but we had to find a way to make it a five-guy deal where we could all just get in there and rebound and help the bigs out, because we knew they had their hands full. It’s difficult when they’ve got good shooters out on the perimeter as well. But we made our adjustments and we locked in and played some D.”
What went right: CU held the Pac-12’s top shooting and top scoring team to a .383 shooting percentage and 62 points, nearly 19 points under USC’s scoring average entering the game. The Buffs also were strong at the free throw line once again, finishing 14-for-16.
What went wrong: CU nearly squandered a 15-point lead early in the second half, but after USC cut the deficit to two the Buffs responded with an 11-3 run to pull away.
Star of the game: McKinley Wright IV. Showing no limitations from an ankle injury he suffered on Monday at Arizona, CU’s senior point guard recorded 19 points, four rebounds, four assists, and three steals.
What’s next: The Buffs will try to make it two out of three on their Pac-12-opening three-game road swing on Saturday night at UCLA (6 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Networks).
COLORADO 72, SOUTHERN CAL 62
COLORADO (7-2, 1-1)
Battey 5-10 1-1 11, Horne 3-10 2-2 10, Parquet 0-2 2-2 2, Wright 7-13 2-3 17, Schwartz 3-9 6-6 13, Daniels 2-6 0-0 6, Walker 3-4 0-0 7, Barthelemy 2-4 0-0 5, da Silva 0-2 1-2 1. Totals 25-60 14-16 72.
SOUTHERN CAL (5-2, 0-1)
I.Mobley 4-7 0-0 9, E.Mobley 5-14 2-5 12, Eaddy 5-11 2-2 16, Peterson 2-7 0-0 4, White 1-3 0-0 2, Agbonkpolo 2-7 0-0 6, Baumann 2-3 0-0 6, Goodwin 2-8 3-3 7. Totals 23-60 7-10 62.
Halftime — Colorado 44-33. 3-Point Goals — Colorado 8-22 (Horne 2-4, Daniels 2-5, Barthelemy 1-1, Walker 1-2, Wright 1-2, Schwartz 1-5, Parquet 0-1, da Silva 0-2), Southern Cal 9-24 (Eaddy 4-9, Baumann 2-3, Agbonkpolo 2-6, I.Mobley 1-1, Goodwin 0-1, E.Mobley 0-2, Peterson 0-2). Rebounds — Colorado 38 (Schwartz 10), Southern Cal 35 (E.Mobley 7). Assists — Colorado 12 (Wright 4), Southern Cal 13 (Eaddy 5). Total Fouls — Colorado 16, Southern Cal 16.