Fresh off a 93-68 thrashing of UCLA, the Colorado Buffaloes men’s basketball team overcame a 7-point halftime deficit against USC, catching fire in the second half en route to a 78-67 victory over the Trojans Saturday afternoon in Boulder.
With the win, the Buffaloes (19-11, 10-8 Pac-12) rounded out their regular season with an 8-2 record in the final games, the best such ending to a season since 1961-62.
On senior night, the Buffs honored Namon Wright, the team’s lone senior, in front of a season-high 9,379 fanatics.
In the first half, the Buffs were far from firing on all cylinders. Although the Buffs took an early 4-0 lead and led USC in the game until the 13:17 mark, aside from a 19 second span where the game was tied at 15-all, Colorado trailed the Trojans for the remainder of the half.
With just over three minutes left in the first half, USC had coasted to a 33-21 lead, as nothing seemed to be going right for the Buffs. In their defense, Saturday’s game featured more than a few Colorado shots throughout the day that danced around the rim but failed to go in.
“We didn’t quite answer the bell in the first half,” head coach Tad Boyle said after the game. “….We were a little sluggish [and] out of sync.”
But as the second half progressed, the Buffs kicked things into high gear. In the final 20 minutes of play, Colorado made 62 percent of its shots while outscoring USC, 48-30.
It was a career-high day for freshman forward Evan Battey, who led all participants with 21 points. Battey’s previous career-high in points was the 18 he put up against San Diego on Nov. 20.
Sophomore guards McKinley Wright and Tyler Bey added 17 points apiece for CU. Bey’s 11 rebounds gave him his fifth straight double-double and 14th of the season. With USC’s Nick Rakocevic also recording a double-double in the game, he and Bey remain tied with the Pac-12 lead.
Rakocevic was a constant thorn in the Buffaloes’ side; he led USC with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Down 37-30 as the second half began, the Buffaloes immediately started playing with a much higher intensity than in the opening 20 minutes.
“We challenged our guys at halftime, probably more than we have in quite some time,” Boyle said. They responded and we played with more energy in the second half. We really rebounded the ball and guarded down the stretch.”
Although at times Southern California bullied the Buffs around the glass, snagging 12 offensive rebounds on the day, CU outrebounded the opposition, 40-31 in the game.
The Buffs started the half on a 7-2 run and at the 17:09 mark, had clawed their way back into the game and trailed the Trojans by just two, 39-37.
The game was neck and neck for the next 10 minutes. The Buffs and Trojans traded baskets back and forth but with just under 13 minutes to play, Battey made back to back baskets that gave Colorado its first lead since the 13:07 mark of the opening half.
At that point, the game was far from over. Over the ensuing seven minutes, the Buffaloes’ largest lead was five points.
The final six minutes of play turned the tide of the game in favor of Colorado. The Buffs made USC bleed at the foul line, were borderline lights out from the floor and successfully managed to get the Trojans’ big men in foul trouble.
USC’s Bennie Boatwright, who scored 23 points against Colorado in Los Angeles back in February, fouled out of the game with just over three minutes to go.
“Putting foul pressure on those guys [makes USC] become a different team,” Boyle said. “They don’t have a lot of depth on their front line. We had to go at those guys.”
By the time of the final buzzer, three Trojans had accrued four fouls.
For as good as USC was early in the game, the Trojans picked the wrong time to get hot; in the final 6:05 of play, they scored just nine points. The backbreaker for Southern Cal came in the form of a three minute and 35 second scoring drought from the 4:38 to the 1:13 mark of the final half.
“Today the first half wasn’t good but [in] the second half, we did a very great job of bouncing back and guarding and making plays on the offensive end,” Wright IV said. “Having a win like this on senior night for Namon Wright and going into [the Pac-12 Tourney] with this momentum is huge for us.”
Colorado took advantage of Southern Cal’s stagnation and had a 10-point, 70-60 lead with 2:18 left to go. From there, USC’s only hope was to foul and foul some more, but the Trojans’ deficit was too much; the Buffs’ final eight points came off of foul shots.
The victory combined with Oregon State’s win over Wazzu, plus Utah’s likely victory over UCLA, guarantees Colorado fifth place in the Pac-12 standings as the regular season comes to an end.
Up next for the Buffs will be the Pac-12 Tournament, which begins Wednesday, March 13.
Editor’s Note: Pac-12 Conference seeding and first-round matchups were not finalized at the time of this story’s publication.
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