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LOS ANGELES — There are a number of things Colorado could have done better on Monday afternoon during a 56-52 loss to Southern California at the Galen Center.

It wasn’t difficult to pinpoint the most glaring errors, however.

“Free throws and layups. If you do that, you’re going away with it,” CU head coach JR Payne said.

Once again, the Buffaloes (4-6, 2-5 Pac-12) struggled at the free throw line in a close loss, while also missing some back-breaking layups as they fell to 2-6 in their last eight games.

Mya Hollingshed posted a double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Peanut Tuitele had a season-high 15 points to lead the Buffs, but too many miscues cost them in a crucial game against the Trojans (5-5, 3-5), who jumped over CU in the standings.

Coming into the day, the Buffs ranked 289th out of 336 Division I teams in free throw percentage and fell even further by going 9-for-19 against the Trojans.

It’s the fourth time this season the Buffs have missed at least 10 free throws in a game, including 11 misses in a three-point home loss to then-No. 7 Arizona. The Buffs also missed nine free throws in a one-point loss at Denver on Dec. 8.

“You want to know what’s frustrating? That’s extremely frustrating,” Payne said. “We do pressure free throws, we shoot a ton of them (in practice). We’ve got to be able to step up and knock them down. So, that’s unbelievably frustrating.”

Payne spent the past week quarantining in her basement after being exposed to someone with COVID-19 (she did not test positive). She flew to Los Angeles on Monday morning and rejoined the team on the bus to the game.

In her absence, each of the Buffs shot at least 100 free throws per day, and her assistants, including husband Toriano Towns, did their best to get the players ready.

“They had great preparation; our other coaches did a great job of coaching them up all week,” said Payne, who also relied on assistants Alex Earl and Shandrika Lee this week. “They were prepared, they knew the scout and for the most part we did a great job, minus the free throws and layups.”

Down by as many as 12 points in the third quarter, the Buffs clawed back into the game in the fourth. They sliced the deficit to 54-52 with 1:28 to play on a Tuitele layup.

“You can just feel tension on the court with such a close game, but as soon as I made that layup, it was an energy shift right away and it was positive; we were all hyped,” Tuitele said. “We’re like, ‘We can do this, we believe in each other.’ At the end of day … it’s layups and free throws.”

CU’s defense forced a pair of turnovers in the final minute and then Hollingshed, triple-teamed, passed to a teammate for a wide-open layup that would have tied the game with six seconds to go, but it was no good. USC added a pair of three throws to seal the game.

“Bottom line, you’ve got to make that,” Payne said. “My college coach used to say, ‘I can’t pick you up and throw you through the hoop.’ You’ve got to be able to make those buckets and we’ve got to sort of woman up and get that done.”

Monday’s game was originally scheduled for Sunday, but USC agreed to move it back a day so that Payne could join the team. That’s left the Buffs with the short week, however. They are scheduled to return to action Friday afternoon at home against California, as they look to snap a two-game losing streak and build some positive momentum.

“We don’t need a Herculean effort from anybody to do anything outside of what they’re comfortable with,” Payne said, “but we’ve got to be able to take care of those little things that are in our control.”

Fast break

What went right: CU rebounded well, played good defense and did a nice job rallying in the second half.

What went wrong: Shooting continues to be a challenge for the Buffs, especially at the free throw line. The Buffs went just 9-for-19 at the line and made only 35.2% of their shots from the floor (19-of-54).

Star of the game: Mya Hollingshed. Another solid performance for the senior, who had a double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds) and two blocks.

What’s next: The Buffs host California on Friday at 3:30 p.m.


COLORADO (4-6, 2-5 Pac-12)

Sherrod 2-11 1-6 7, Hollingshed 5-14 4-5 14, Knight 2-4 1-2 5, Formann 0-5 0-2 0, Tuitele 6-9 2-2 15, Jones 3-6 0-0 8, Kulinska 0-0 0-0 0, Blacksten 0-0 0-0 0, Jank 0-0 0-0 0, LaFontaine 0-0 0-0 0, Finau 0-2 0-0 0, Whittaker 1-3 1-2 3. Totals 19-54 9-19 52.

USC (5-5, 3-5 Pac-12)

Oliver 1-3 0-2 2, Jackson 5-7 0-0 10, Caldwell 4-8 2-2 13, Rogers 5-15 0-0 12, Sanders 6-14 2-2 16, Tinner 0-1 0-0 0, White 1-2 0-0 2, Jenkins 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 22-50 5-8 56.

Colorado                     11        13        11        17        –           52

USC                            15        15        13        13        –           56

3-point goals – Colorado 5-16 (Sherrod 2-5, Jones 2-3, Tuitele 1-3, Hollingshed 0-2, Formann 0-2, Finau 0-1). USC 7-25 (Caldwell 3-5, Sanders 2-9, Rogers 2-8, Oliver 0-1, Tinner 0-1, White 0-1). Rebounds – Colorado 34 (Hollingshed 10), USC 31 (Jackson 13). Assists – Colorado 10 (Sherrod 2, Formann 2, Finau 2), USC 12 (Rogers 5). Steals – Colorado 7 (Jones 2), USC 5 (Sanders 2). Turnovers – Colorado 14, USC 17. Total fouls – Colorado 17, USC 13. Fouled out – Hollingshed.

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