Despite getting dominated on the boards and, once again, committing far too many turnovers to win against a good team, let alone a ranked one, the Colorado Buffaloes had plenty of opportunities down the stretch.
For one of the few times this season, the Buffs executed at crunch time every bit like a team full of players getting their first true taste of elite college competition.
Unable to consistently solve USC’s defense throughout the contest while coming up empty on several key possessions in the waning minutes, CU fell short on Thursday as the 16th-ranked Trojans handed the Buffs a 61-58 defeat at the CU Events Center.
The loss ended CU’s seven-game winning streak against USC over the previous three seasons and dropped the Buffs this season to 0-4 against ranked opponents.
“This loss is on me. I’ll take the blame. Down the stretch there we did not execute,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “We didn’t execute offensively pretty much all night long. We made a few shots there in the second half to get the crowd into it, but I thought our offense had made more strides than that. We were playing against a good USC defensive team tonight and we played really impatiently.”
USC entered the game ranked second in the Pac-12 in defensive field goal percentage, and for much of the contest the Buffs struggled to mount a consistent offensive attack. Although the Buffs went 7-for-15 on 3-pointers, CU finished with a season-low field goal percentage of .314. It was the second time in three games the Buffs posted a season-low shooting mark, following the .328 percentage CU compiled in a loss last week at Arizona.
CU also was dominated on the glass, with USC outrebounding the Buffs 47-32. That led to a 38-12 advantage for USC on points in the paint and a 15-5 edge in second-chance points, a total powered by the Trojans’ 18 offensive rebounds.
Yet despite those struggles, CU’s own solid defense — USC shot a season-low .371 and went 3-for-12 on 3-pointers — and a productive night at the free throw line (19-for-25) put the Buffs in position to steal a win down the stretch. Their execution, however, abandoned the Buffs.
Down the stretch, both Evan Battey and Jabari Walker missed free throws that would have either tied the game or put the Buffs ahead. Two Walker free throws with 75 seconds remaining pulled CU within a point, but after a defensive stop Walker’s go-ahead field goal attempt inside rolled off the rim.
USC extended its lead to 58-56 on a lone Chevez Goodwin free throw with 26.8 seconds remaining, but the Buffs’ next possession ended with a wildly errant left-handed scoop in the lane from Keeshawn Barthelemy. The Trojans’ Max Agbonkpolo hit one more free throw with 15 seconds to go, but Walker’s fifth turnover denied the Buffs even a chance at launching a game-tying attempt.
“Points in the paint, 38-12. Outrebounded by 15. Sixteen turnovers. There’s no hidden answer. It’s right there in front of you,” said Battey. “We didn’t do the things necessary…for us to win and it starts with me.”
CU played without starting guard Elijah Parquet, who has been nursing a lower leg injury. Walker finished with a team-high 13 points, but his five turnovers marked the fifth time this season — and the third time in the past five games — he has recorded at least four turnovers in a game.
“They made plays. We didn’t, and for that I’ve got to look inwardly first,” Boyle said. “I don’t know how we were in the game, quite frankly. That’s a testament to our guys’ competitiveness and grit. But it wasn’t enough to overcome the ineptitude offensively and the 18 offensive rebounds. We want that number to be six or less.”
What went right: CU went 7-for-15 on 3-pointers and held USC to a season-low .371 shooting percentage.
What went wrong: The Buffs also posted a season-low shooting percentage of .314. CU was outrebounded 47-32 and committed 16 turnovers.
Star of the game: Evan Battey. Nobody truly stood out for the Buffs, but the senior forward finished with 10 points, eight rebounds, and three assists with only one turnover in 34 minutes.
What’s next: The Buffs will take on their third ranked foe in four games when they host No. 9 UCLA on Saturday (7 p.m., Pac-12 Network).
No. 16 Southern Cal 61, Colorado 58
SOUTHERN CAL (15-2, 5-2)
Goodwin 6-17 2-5 14, Mobley 5-13 2-2 13, Anderson 2-5 0-0 5, Ellis 4-7 3-3 11, Peterson 1-7 0-0 2, Agbonkpolo 3-5 5-7 11, Morgan 0-3 0-0 0, White 1-2 0-0 3, Dixon-Waters 1-3 0-0 2, Johnson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-62 12-17 61.
COLORADO (12-5, 4-3)
Battey 3-10 4-6 10, Walker 3-9 5-6 13, da Silva 3-8 2-4 10, Barthelemy 3-11 3-3 9, Clifford 2-5 0-0 5, Simpson 1-4 4-4 7, O’Brien 1-1 0-0 3, Lovering 0-3 0-0 0, Hammond 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 16-51 19-25 58.
Halftime — 25-25. 3-point field goals — Southern Cal 3-12 (Anderson 1-1, White 1-2, Mobley 1-4, Agbonkpolo 0-1, Dixon-Waters 0-1, Ellis 0-1, Peterson 0-2), Colorado 7-15 (Walker 2-3, da Silva 2-3, O’Brien 1-1, Clifford 1-2, Simpson 1-2, Battey 0-1, Barthelemy 0-3). Rebounds — Southern Cal 47 (Goodwin 18), Colorado 32 (Battey, Walker 8). Assists — Southern Cal 8 (Mobley 3), Colorado 10 (Battey 3). Total fouls — Southern Cal 21, Colorado 18. A — 7,475.