The players who made the Colorado-USC rivalry one of the more entertaining matchups in Pac-12 men’s basketball over the past five years have moved on.
The next generation of Buffaloes is eager to carry on the battle.
The nearly-annual, often entertaining visit to USC is at hand, with the Buffs beginning a two-game trip through Los Angeles on Thursday night at the Galen Center. Yet with last year’s graduation of Evan Battey, the Buffs no longer have any players remaining from when tempers first flared between the programs during the 2017-18 season.
First and foremost, CU is seeking road results that will get them back in the Pac-12 Conference race. Beyond that, several Buffs players expressed a responsibility to carry on an impressive road run at USC.
“Those were our teammates. Whatever we experienced with them, we kind of felt it a little bit last year and it carries over with us for sure,” CU point guard KJ Simpson said. “That rivalry in that sense is still kind of there. It’s going to be a high-energy game. It’s going to be a little personal, but you’ve just got to play. You can’t get caught up in all that.”
The friction between the programs first arose at the Galen Center on Jan. 10, 2018, when USC coach Andy Enfield took a late timeout with a win in hand to celebrate with his team. This was four days after CU head coach Tad Boyle’s infamous “Hell yes!” response after a win against Arizona when asked if he took extra satisfaction in defeating teams embroiled in the then-new FBI recruiting investigation, which included Enfield’s USC program.
The Trojans completed a season sweep of CU in Boulder a month later, but a Buffs win the following winter at the Galen Center spurred a jubilant victory celebration that featured an exchange of words between Boyle and then-USC assistant Jason Hart, followed by an epic bear hug between Boyle and CU athletic director Rick George.
That victory sparked a three-season, seven-game winning streak for the Buffs against the Trojans that culminated with a CU win in the 2021 Pac-12 tournament semifinals and featured three consecutive wins at the Galen Center. That road winning streak remains intact, as CU didn’t visit USC last season, though the Trojans did start earning a little payback with a win in Boulder a year ago.
“I would say they’re our biggest rivals in the Pac-12,” CU junior wing Nique Clifford said. “There’s kind of some bad blood there. I wasn’t here for it, but it’s carried on. Everyone knows how big this game is and how important it is to our team. We’ve just got to take care of business on the road. These are two big games for us. If we take care of business, it will put us right back in the mix in the Pac-12.”
Like the Buffs, USC’s nonconference play balanced bad losses (like a season-opening home loss against Enfield’s former program, Florida Gulf Coast) with impressive wins (Nov. 21 vs. Auburn). The Trojans got off to a 3-0 start in Pac-12 play, winning road games at two places where CU lost against Washington and California. But the Trojans are coming off consecutive road losses against Washington State and UCLA, and Boyle said making good decisions in the lane against USC 6-foot-11 forward Joshua Morgan, the Pac-12’s leading shot blocker, will be critical to his team’s chances of keeping its Galen Center winning streak alive.
“There’s no game that has more meaning than others,” Boyle said. “So we’d better be ready to play no matter who we’re playing, when we’re playing. It’s not like if we were playing UCLA first we’d be saying we have to look to beat USC on Saturday. We have to beat USC because they’re the next game on the schedule.”
CU Buffs men’s basketball at USC Trojans
TIPOFF: Thursday, 7 p.m. MT, Galen Center, Los Angeles.
TV/RADIO: TV — Pac-12 Network. Radio — KOA 850 AM and 94.1 FM.
RECORDS: Colorado 11-6, 3-3 Pac-12 Conference; USC 11-5, 3-2.
COACHES: USC — Andy Enfield, 10th season (205-128, 246-156 overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 13th season (265-161, 321-227 overall).
KEY PLAYERS: USC — G Boogie Ellis, 6-3 Sr. (15.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg, .364 3-point percentage); G Drew Peterson, 6-9, Gr. (13.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 5.1 apg); G Reese Dixon-Waters, 6-5, So. (9.9 ppg); G Tre White, 6-7, Fr. (9.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg); F Joshua Morgan, 6-11, R-Jr. (8.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.7 bpg). Colorado — G KJ Simpson, 6-2, So. (17.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.9 apg); F Tristan da Silva, 6-9, Jr. (15.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg, .532 field goal percentage); F J’Vonne Hadley, 6-6, Jr. (9.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg, .552 field goal percentage).
NOTES: The Buffs and Trojans are similar statistically in a number of categories. USC ranks third in the Pac-12 with a .461 field goal percentage and the Buffs are fifth at .456. The Trojans are seventh in the league in 3-point percentage (.316) and CU is fifth (.326). Both teams have struggled to guard the 3-point line, as they are essentially tied for 10th in the league in defensive 3-point percentage at .331…CU should have an advantage on the glass. The Buffs rank third in the Pac-12 in average rebound margin (plus-5.4) while USC ranks ninth (minus-0.1)…CU still is expected to play without reserve guard Jalen Gabbidon, who has missed the past three games due to a knee injury…The Buffs have posted a .397 defensive field goal percentage in nine home games, but that number jumps to .431 in the eight games away from home…CU’s L.A. trip concludes on Saturday at No. 7 UCLA (6 p.m. MT, FOX).