LAS VEGAS — Add another chapter to the contentious Colorado-USC basketball rivalry. And add another milestone victory for the Tad Boyle-era Buffaloes.
In a wildly entertaining game, a tip dunk by CU senior D’Shawn Schwartz with 3.3 seconds left lifted the Buffs to a 72-70 win against USC Friday night in the semifinals of the Pac-12 Conference tournament. No. 23 CU will make its second appearance in the Pac-12 title game on Saturday night against fifth-seeded Oregon State, which defeated top-seeded Oregon in the first semifinal.
It will be the program’s third appearance in a conference tournament title game overall, including the victorious 2012 Pac-12 championship game and a defeat against Oklahoma in the 1990 Big Eight final. It was the surging Buffs’ sixth consecutive win and their seventh straight win against the Trojans.
Friday’s thriller featured a little bit of everything, from a cheap elbow that nearly knocked CU leader McKinley Wright IV from the game to a star-driven back-and-forth between Wright and USC standout freshman Evan Mobley to the late-game heroics of Schwartz and Jeriah Horne.
“I felt like it was a high-level basketball game between two really good teams,” Boyle said. “Evan Mobley, we had done a really good job on him the first two games. Not that we didn’t think he was a good player. We knew he was a good player, but our guys had kind of kept him in check. But tonight he made some big-time shots, big-time plays.”
The drama began at the 13:50 mark when Wright briefly was sent to the locker room after absorbing a wicked elbow from USC’s Chevez Goodwin. CU had scored 10 consecutive points when Wright hit the floor, and while he recovered in the locker room the motivated Buffs added seven more. Six of those points came from Wright’s replacement, backup point guard Keeshawn Barthelemy, on a pair of 3-pointers.
That 17-0 run turned an early three-point deficit for CU into a 14-point lead, but the 24th-ranked Trojans steadily chipped away from there, cutting the Buffs’ advantage to 39-30 at halftime. Four 3-pointers from Horne after halftime helped the Buffs keep USC at bay, but a late 14-2 run sparked by Tahj Eaddy, who scored all 11 of his points during the burst, pulled the Trojans into a 70-70 tie with 35.2 seconds remaining.
With about a five-second difference on the shot clock, Wright worked it down to the final seconds before launching a jumper from near the top of the key. The shot was off, but no one blocked out Schwartz as he swooped in from the wing to dunk home the winning points.
“Before we went out for tipoff, coach always draws up stuff on the board, and the last thing on the board was do your offensive rebounding job,” Wright said. “And (Schwartz) did his job. He crashed. I got a good look with about one second on the shot clock. It felt good but I left it a little short, and he crashed and got us a big-time tip dunk.”
USC still had a last gasp with 3.3 seconds remaining, but Wright managed to get his arm on a lead pass to Eaddy for a steal that sealed the win. Trojans coach Andy Enfield, who three years ago took a late timeout to show up the Buffs with a USC win decided in the final seconds, and who said on Thursday the defensive key for his club was to slow the Buffs at the 3-point line only to watch CU go 12-for-24, cried foul afterward.
“We executed it perfectly and Evan (Mobley) got the ball in the middle,” said Enfield, whose club was assessed two technical fouls that gave CU three free points. “Tahj broke, and McKinley Wright pushed him in the back right in front of our bench and that was the game. And they didn’t call a foul.”
Wright went 9-for-16 and finished with 24 points, five rebounds, and four assists. Mobley went 11-for-16 and posted a game-highs of 26 points and nine rebounds.
What went right: CU outrebounded USC 37-29 and went 12-for-24 on 3-pointers.
What went wrong: Despite a promising start defensively, the Buffs watched USC shoot 60 percent (15-for-25) after halftime.
Star of the game: Pick ’em between McKinley Wright IV and Jeriah Horne. Wright led the way with 24 points, five rebounds, and four assists. Horne helped hold off USC in the second half with four 3-pointers after the break, finishing with 19 points and a team-best seven rebounds.
What’s next: The second-seeded Buffs will face fifth-seeded Oregon State for the Pac-12 title on Saturday night (8:30 p.m. MT, ESPN).
No. 23 Colorado 72, No. 24 Southern Cal 70
Battey 3-8 0-0 6, Walton 0-3 0-0 0, Parquet 0-2 2-2 2, Wright 9-16 2-2 24, Schwartz 3-6 1-2 9, Horne 6-15 3-4 19, da Silva 1-2 0-0 2, Barthelemy 3-4 0-0 8, Daniels 1-2 0-0 2, Walker 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 26-61 8-10 72.
I.Mobley 3-7 0-0 8, E.Mobley 11-16 3-7 26, Eaddy 4-9 1-1 11, Peterson 4-10 0-2 9, White 2-4 0-0 4, E.Anderson 2-5 0-0 5, Goodwin 1-2 2-2 4, Agbonkpolo 0-0 0-0 0, Baumann 1-1 0-0 3. Totals 28-54 6-12 70.
Halftime — Colorado 39-30. 3-point goals — Colorado 12-24 (Wright 4-6, Horne 4-8, Barthelemy 2-3, Schwartz 2-4, Parquet 0-1, Walker 0-1, Walton 0-1), Southern Cal 8-17 (Eaddy 2-2, I.Mobley 2-2, Baumann 1-1, E.Anderson 1-2, E.Mobley 1-3, Peterson 1-5, White 0-2). Rebounds — Colorado 37 (Horne 7), Southern Cal 29 (E.Mobley 9). Assists — Colorado 11 (Wright 4), Southern Cal 12 (Eaddy 5). Total fouls — Colorado 13, Southern Cal 11.