Buffs’ Balance Sinks USC, Earns Split On L.A. Trip
LOS ANGELES – After playing a forgettable second half in a loss at UCLA on Thursday, Colorado responded with 40 mostly solid minutes of basketball and an 83-74 victory over Southern California on Sunday night at the Galen Center.
The Buffaloes (19-7, 8-5 Pac-12) finished with five players scoring in double-figures, led by Xavier Johnson with 20 points and Askia Booker with 18. It was the third time in the last four games Johnson has scored 20 points or more.
The Buffs’ other double-figure scorers were Josh Scott (17 points, 8 rebounds), Xavier Talton (14 points, 7 rebounds) and Jaron Hopkins (10 points, 4 assists). CU is now 5-0 on the season when five players score 10 or more points in a game.
“Our offense has gotten a lot better in the last couple weeks,” Colorado head coach Tad Boyle told KOA Radio 850. “But, our defense and our rebounding are going to carry us and if we don’t get that right – doesn’t matter if we are playing at home or on the road – you better have those things in check.”
Booker also contributed eight rebounds, six of his team’s 18 assists and a pair of steals in 34 minutes. He also committed six of the Buffs’ 17 turnovers, which cost CU 15 points.
But all-in-all, CU was efficient offensively, finishing at 50 percent from the field (28-of-56) and making 8-of-17 3-pointers (47.1 percent). Said Boyle: “We obviously have gotten better offensively. We’re functioning as a group and really sharing the ball. It was a great effort by our team offensively.”
The Buffs gained their largest lead of the game after a Scott dunk that put them up 72-54 with 4:38 remaining in the contest. But as the game came to a close USC found second-chance opportunities that allowed the Trojans to creep back in.
Trailing by as many as 18 points in the second half, USC (10-15, 1-11) was able to rally late and got to within eight with 28.5 seconds remaining but came no closer. The Trojans were led by Byron Wesley, who finished with 21 points and 8 rebounds. CU forced USC into 17 turnovers, 12 of them in the first half as CU fashioned an 11-point lead.
“I think we did good overall,” Johnson said. “We do have to learn how to close out games, so we just have to contain their drives and become better as a team at closing games and do what we do best, which is defense and rebounding.”
Johnson got the Buffs going offensively with five of his team’s first seven points. But two quick fouls put him on the bench and brought on Hopkins, whose 10 first-half points were a career high. His output included a 3-pointer and a layup in transition that produced 10-point leads on two occasions.
USC out-rebounded CU 40-34, which never sits well with Boyle. “We got out-rebounded by six and this is a team we out-rebounded by 20 at our place,” he said. “There’s no excuse for that. We can play better, but to win on the road when you don’t play your best and you don’t necessarily execute down the stretch the way you want to is good. But we have to finish stronger than we did. We know that. Overall I was pleased.”
Boyle said Hopkins “was good. He made a couple of 3s, which always helps him, but I thought defensively he was really good. I know (USC’s) Wesley had 21, but I thought for the most part, he did a pretty good job. He was aggressive in transition and played with a lot of confidence tonight.”
After Talton capped a 9-2 run with a trey, the Buffs led 36-25 with 3:28 remaining before intermission. The half ended with USC’s 12th turnover and CU on top 40-32. It was the third straight game in which the Buffs had scored 40 in a half, with 13 of those points coming off of Trojan miscues.
After intermission USC was able to cut the lead to four (47-43), but it was again Johnson who responded for CU with five consecutive points. After a trey by Talton and an “and-one” from Booker, the Buffs were up 58-45.
“I thought our defense was good in the second half, other than in transition,” Boyle said. “They got out in transition a couple of times and got some layups, but our guys fought . . . we’ve had some young guys step up. I’m extremely pleased with what we’ve had to overcome. We want to be competing for a conference championship; we don’t want to be in the middle of the muck, which is where we are. Every league has that muck, and it’s better than being in the bottom of it, I can tell you that. This team could have been there if we had felt sorry for ourselves and not compete like these guys have.”
CU picked up its fourth win in four games against USC in Pac-12 play. The Buffs are also perfect against Washington State (4-0) since joining the league in 2011.
Colorado returns to the Coors Events Center for its final two home games against Arizona State on Wednesday (9 p.m., ESPNU) and No. 2 Arizona on Saturday (7 p.m., ESPN) when College GameDay will be in town for CU’s Senior Day.