Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Tad Boyle probably would be the first person to say an NCAA Tournament bid isn’t assured until Colorado sees its name in the 68-team bracket on Selection Sunday.
Yet the Buffaloes understood the three-game homestand scheduled to complete the regular season offered a huge opportunity to cement those credentials for the Big Dance. And on Thursday night, the Buffs got that final homestand started by looking every bit like an NCAA Tournament team.
Powered by a torrid shooting performance from Jeriah Horne and another memorable game from point guard McKinley Wright IV, the Buffs never trailed after USC converted the game’s opening basket, dominating the 19th-ranked Trojans for an 80-62 win at the CU Events Center.
The victory keeps alive the Buffs’ slim but very real chance at landing the top seed at the Pac-12 Conference tournament and gave CU its third consecutive regular season sweep of the Trojans. The win also gave CU its 12th conference win, the program’s most since joining the Pac-12 before the 2011-12 season. And though the league moved to a 20-game schedule this season, the Buffs can say they hit that win total within the Pac-12’s typical 18-game threshold.
With the win, combined with Stanford’s loss Thursday night against Oregon, CU can finish no lower than fourth in the league, meaning the Buffs will have a first-round bye at the Pac-12 tournament and will begin play in the quarterfinals in Las Vegas on March 11.
“We just came out focused and wanted to make sure that we started to set the tone for this end of the season run,” Horne said. “Everybody bought in. We followed coach’s plans. And we played together. We had each other’s backs and I think it showed tonight.”
Horne couldn’t miss for much of the night, finishing 9-for-12 overall and 6-for-9 on 3-pointers while matching his season-best with 24 points. Horne also grabbed a game-best seven rebounds to post his second double-double of the season.
Wright was honored before the game by CU athletic director Rick George, who bestowed Wright with a basketball commemorating Wright becoming the first Pac-12 player to record at least 1,700 points, 600 rebounds, and 600 assists in his career. Fittingly, he turned in another milestone effort, finishing with 15 points and a career-high 14 assists for his third double-double of the season.
For Wright, it was the ninth double-digit assist game of his career, breaking a tie with Jay Humphries for the most in program history. Wright’s 14 assists also tied for the second-most in team history in a mark also shared by Humphries (14 at Oklahoma on Jan. 29, 1983) and Mike Reid (14 vs. Missouri on March 1, 1986).
USC scored the game’s first basket, but the Trojans never led again after the Buffs scored the next seven points. A 10-0 run by CU late in the first half helped give the Buffs a 42-29 lead at the break, and the Trojans never got the deficit into single digits the rest of the way.
While the Buffs posted a 12-for-22 mark on 3-pointers, the also made it a long night for USC freshman Evan Mobley, who entered the game averaging 16.4 points and 8.5 rebounds in Pac-12 play but was limited to 13 points and five rebounds, with four turnovers, against the Buffs.
“Team victory. Guys were dialed-in to the scouting report,” Boyle said. “When we share the ball and have 20 assists on offense, we’re a joy to watch and a joy to coach. We’d been shooting the ball from three, it’s been tough for us the last three games. I knew it was just a matter of time if we were getting good shots and taking good shots, that they’d start falling.”
What went right: CU went 12-for-22 on 3-pointers, held USC to a .383 mark from the floor, and outrebounded USC 35-34.
What went wrong: The Buffs very uncharacteristically were whistled for three technical fouls.
Star of the game: Jeriah Horne. The senior went 9-for-12 from the floor with a 6-for-9 mark on 3-pointers before finishing with 24 points, matching a season-high, and 11 rebounds.
What’s next: The regular season-ending homestand continues on Saturday night against UCLA (8 p.m., ESPN2).
Colorado 80, No. 19 Southern Cal 62
SOUTHERN CAL (19-5, 13-4 Pac-12)
I.Mobley 1-4 0-0 2, E.Mobley 6-13 1-2 13, E.Anderson 3-6 1-3 7, Eaddy 3-9 5-8 13, White 3-7 1-2 9, Peterson 1-7 2-2 4, Agbonkpolo 0-4 0-0 0, Goodwin 4-6 1-1 9, Baumann 2-4 0-0 5, Waters 0-0 0-0 0, Coulibaly 0-0 0-0 0, London 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-60 11-18 62.
COLORADO (18-7, 12-6)
Battey 1-4 0-0 2, Walton 1-4 2-3 4, Parquet 4-6 0-0 10, Wright 4-14 7-7 15, Schwartz 4-7 2-2 12, Horne 9-12 0-0 24, Daniels 2-2 2-2 7, da Silva 0-2 0-0 0, Walker 2-4 1-1 6, Barthelemy 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 27-57 14-15 80.
Halftime — Colorado 42-29. 3-point goals — Southern Cal 5-16 (Eaddy 2-3, White 2-3, Baumann 1-2, E.Mobley 0-1, I.Mobley 0-1, Peterson 0-1, E.Anderson 0-2, Agbonkpolo 0-3), Colorado 12-22 (Horne 6-9, Parquet 2-3, Schwartz 2-3, Daniels 1-1, Walker 1-2, Barthelemy 0-1, Battey 0-1, Wright 0-1, da Silva 0-1). Fouled out — E.Anderson. Rebounds — Southern Cal 34 (I.Mobley, E.Mobley, White, Peterson 5), Colorado 35 (Horne 11). Assists — Southern Cal 7 (E.Anderson, White, Peterson 2), Colorado 20 (Wright 14). Total fouls — Southern Cal 15, Colorado 17. A — 98 (11,064).