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New cast seeks familiar results for CU Buffs in showdown against No. 16 USC

Buffs start critical weekend with rivalry battle

BOULDER, CO – February 25, 2021: Colorado’s Evan Battey battles between the Mobley brothers of USC during the Colorado USC Pac-12 men’s game in Boulder on February 25, 2021. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
BOULDER, CO – February 25, 2021: Colorado’s Evan Battey battles between the Mobley brothers of USC during the Colorado USC Pac-12 men’s game in Boulder on February 25, 2021. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
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Sure, it’s a longstanding winning streak. Yet it’s one few of the current Colorado Buffaloes have contributed to.

A source of pride in recent seasons for coach Tad Boyle’s CU men’s basketball program has been the three-year run against USC, a winning streak that began amid terse and emotional exchanges, has included three straight road wins for the Buffs, and was last on display when CU posted a thrilling, last-minute win against the Trojans in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals.

However, for the bulk of the crew set to take the CU Events Center floor on Thursday against the 16th-ranked Trojans, those previous wins were other players’ battles. The onus is on the younger players who have taken over CU’s rotation to keep the streak alive.

Winners of seven straight against USC, the Buffs begin a weekend critical to any potential postseason push by looking to make it eight in a row against the Trojans on Thursday evening.

“It’s a big game for us. We haven’t been able to beat a ranked team yet,” sophomore wing Nique Clifford said. “We get an opportunity to just to that. And then being a rivalry. We’ve got to come out and play our best. I think we’ve beat them seven times in a row. We don’t want to let that streak up and we’ve got to take pride in that. The older guys before us have done their part, so now it’s our turn to just keep that streak going.”

While seniors Evan Battey and Elijah Parquet played key roles in the season sweeps of USC each of the previous three seasons, few others in the current rotation made much of a mark during the streak. The lone exception might be point guard Keeshawn Barthelemy who, with McKinley Wright IV briefly sidelined, came off the bench to drain two key first half 3-pointers in the Pac-12 semifinals in March.

It will be up to those players — Barthelemy, Clifford, Jabari Walker, Tristan da Silva — to keep the streak intact. CU head coach Tad Boyle noted this week his team has lately shown an improved ability to share the ball. CU still is averaging just 12.9 assists per game, a figure that ranks sixth in the Pac-12. But the Buffs matched a season-high with 17 assists in their last outing, a win at Arizona State, and over the past five games, CU has averaged 15.0 assists per game.

“USC is the number two defensive team in the league in field goal percentage defense,” Boyle said. “It’s not going to be easy. We’re going to have to move the ball. We’re going to have to have some patience. Move it side-to-side, get paint touches. Our guys hopefully are starting to understand that.”

More critical to extending the USC winning streak will be the Buffs’ opportunity to finally pick up a quality, Quad 1 win after going 0-3 so far against ranked opponents. Until a Dec. 4 loss against then-No. 13 Tennessee, the Buffs had won six consecutive home games against ranked teams. CU’s homestand continues on Saturday against No. 9 UCLA.

“The key is you need to win the ones you’re supposed to win,” Boyle said. “For us, and where we are in our season right now, we need to win a couple that we’re not supposed to win. We’re not supposed to win on Thursday. They were picked ahead of us in the preseason polls. They’re in the top 25. This is a challenge, but also an opportunity.”

No. 16 USC Trojans at CU Buffs men’s basketball

TIPOFF: Thursday, 5:30 p.m. MT, CU Events Center, Boulder.

BROADCAST: TV — Pac-12 Network; Radio — 850 AM and 94.1 FM.

RECORDS: USC 14-2, 4-2 Pac-12 Conference; Colorado 12-4, 4-2.

COACHES: USC — Andy Enfield, 9th season (171-112, 212-140 overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 12th season (245-147, 301-213 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: USC — F Isaiah Mobley, Jr., 15.3 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 3.0 apg, .444 3-point percentage; F Chevez Goodwin, R-Sr., 13.0 ppg, 7.1 rpg; G Boogie Ellis, Jr., 12.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.9 apg; G Drew Peterson, Sr., 11.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.2 apg. Colorado — F Jabari Walker, So., 13.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg; F Evan Battey, R-Sr., 12.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, .536 field goal percentage; G Keeshawn Barthelemy, R-So., 11.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.7 apg.

NOTES: The Buffs’ last defeat against USC occurred at home on Feb. 21, 2018…USC enters the weekend ranked second in the Pac-12 in points allowed per game (63.5) and defensive field goal percentage (.374). However, that defense showed some vulnerability as the Trojans lost their first two games of the season, with Stanford posting a .439 mark (with 10 3-pointers) and Oregon finishing at .500 against USC. The Ducks also went 10-for-21 on 3-pointers…In seven career games against USC, Battey has shot an even 50 percent while averaging 9.1 points and 5.6 rebounds…Both teams are among five Pac-12 teams with two league losses behind conference front-runners Arizona and UCLA…CU’s homestand continues on Saturday against No. 9 UCLA (7 p.m., Pac-12 Network).

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