One possible key for the Colorado Buffaloes against No. 16 USC on Thursday night?
Wear down the Trojans.
Granted, like the rest of the Pac-12, USC has been idle since Saturday. Yet Thursday’s late afternoon battle at the CU Events Center (5:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network) also will be the Trojans’ fourth game in 10 days.
Beyond the usual X-factor of a sea level program traveling to altitude, USC is a squad that leans heavily on its top six players with little depth in the rotation beyond that group.
Isaiah Mobley ranks fifth in the Pac-12 in scoring (15.3) and leads the league in rebounding (9.2). Forward Chevez Goodwin is taking advantage of is extra season of eligibility to the tune of 13.0 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Drew Peterson (11.1 ppg) and Boogie Ellis (12.6), a CU recruiting target out of high school and again when he transferred from Memphis, cause matchup problems along the wing.
Ethan Anderson and Max Agbonkpolo have rotated starts at the point guard spot, but after that the production from USC’s bench drops dramatically.
“Isaiah Mobley is one of the most improved players,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “You look at his improvement from his freshman year to now his junior year, it’s remarkable. Drew Peterson is a guy that we used to not really fear in terms of his ability to score and shoot the ball. We knew he could always get into the lane and he’s a really good passer, and he has great size for a guard, but now he’s shooting the ball and he’s a legitimate Pac-12 all-league consideration kind of player. And then Boogie Ellis…we tried to recruit him out of high school, we tried to recruit him when he left Memphis, he’s a hell of a player.”
Thursday’s matchup features two of the top rebounding teams in the Pac-12. USC enters the game ranked third in the league in average rebounding margin (plus-7.3) while the Buffs rank fourth (plus-7.1).\
For CU, the rebounding surge has been a recent trend, with the Buffs outrebounding their foes in seven of the past eight games, including a plus-15 margin in a win at Arizona State last seek. However, CU also has been outrebounded in three of its six Pac-12 games — Stanford, UCLA, and Arizona — and Boyle still wants to see his club hold its own on the glass against another strong rebounding team.
“The key is, can you do it against another good rebounding team? Like Arizona. Or like USC,” Boyle said. “We’ve proven we can rebound the ball pretty well against teams that don’t rebound the ball well. We’re trying to prepare ourselves to beat good teams. And we’re playing a good team on Thursday and on Saturday. So it’s time. The time’s now.”
Senior Evan Battey needs four points to become the fourth CU player to reach the 1,100-point mark. Next in line on the all-time scoring list is Jim Davis (1,110) and former teammate Tyler Bey (1,113)…USC is averaging just 10.7 turnovers per game, the second-lowest mark in the Pac-12…USC began Thursday at No. 28 in the NET rankings and No. 26 at KenPom.com. CU is No. 87 in the NET and No. 78 at KenPom…CU leads the all-time series against USC 16-7, with an 8-2 mark in Boulder.