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Buffs Set For Pac-12 Semifinal Matchup With Trojans

Mar 12, 2021
Jeriah Horne had 24 points in a CU win over USC in late February.

LAS VEGAS — Now considered a lock for at least an NCAA Tournament at-large bid, Tad Boyle's Colorado Buffaloes are aiming to improve their seed when the tourney bracket is announced Sunday.

The 23rd-ranked Buffs (21-7) have a great opportunity to do just that Friday, when they meet Southern California (22-6) in a 9:30 p.m. Pac-12 tournament semifinal at T-Mobile Arena (ESPN).

The third-seeded Buffs advanced via a grind-it-out 61-58 win over Cal late Thursday night, a game delayed by almost an hour after second-seeded USC needed two overtimes to dispatch Utah, 91-85.

Colorado swept the season series with the Trojans, both times using a stifling defense to keep high-scoring USC under wraps. CU won the first meeting on Dec. 31 in Los Angeles, 72-62; then collected an 80-62 win in Boulder in late February.

Some notes and observations as the Buffs head into Friday night's semifinal:

— In both games against the Trojans, the Buffs managed to do what few other teams have done — contain USC freshman big man Evan Mobley. In the two games combined, the Pac-12's Player of the Year averaged just 12.5 points, four under his season average. But even more importantly, Mobley shot just 11-for-27 in the two games (41.7 percent), well under his season average of 57.8 percent. The Buffs will need big men Evan Battey and Dallas Walton to continue that trend Friday.

— USC is the Pac-12's second-leading scoring team, averaging nearly 75 points per game. But the Buffs held USC to 62 in both contests, the Trojans' second-lowest season totals of the season. Overall, the Buffs held USC to 38.3 percent shooting in both contests (46-for-120).

— The Buffs utilized their long-range shooting in both games. In the first contest, they were 8-for-22 from beyond the 3-point line. In the second meeting, they shot 12-for-22 from 3-point range, including a blistering 6-for-9 night from senior Jeriah Horne, who finished with 24 points.

— Senior point guard McKinley Wright IV scored 19 in the first game and 15 in the second game. He shot just 4-for-14 in the second game, but hit all seven free throw attempts and finished with a career-best 14 assists.

— The Buffs also won the rebound battle in both games, albeit by a slim margin (38-35 and 35-34), and committed just 11 turnovers in each contest. CU also had four players in double-figure scoring in both contests and shot 28-for-31 from the free throw line in the two games combined.

— Speaking of free throws, the Buffs had a rare "off" night Thursday against Cal. The nation's leading free throw shooting team — and a team still on pace to set the all-time NCAA record — shot a respectable 18-for-23 from the stripe (78.3 percent), but missed five of their last nine after hitting 14 in a row. The misses led to some tense moments down the stretch. The Buff have shot at least 80 percent from the line in 19 games this year and Thursday's game was only the fourth time this season CU has missed at least five free throws.

— Colorado entered Friday at No. 12 in the NCAA's NET ratings, with USC right behind at No. 14. In the Kenpom rankings, Colorado was No. 18 while USC was No. 16. The Buffs are currently being projected as a No. 5 or No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but a win Friday — and another Saturday in the conference title game — would no doubt bump them up.

— Friday's first semifinal matches No. 1 seed Oregon against No. 5 Oregon State at 6:30 p.m. Saturday's title game is set to tip off at 8:30 p.m. (ESPN).

— And finally, this will be CU's fifth conference tournament semifinal appearance in Boyle's 11 years in Boulder — four in the Pac-12 and one in the Big 12. Thursday's win gave CU 21 victories for the 10th time in school history, with Boyle's teams accounting for eight of those.

BROADCAST: The game will be televised by ESPN with Dave Pasch and Bill Walton. KOA 850 AM and 94.1 FM will carry the radio broadcast with Voice of the Buffs Mark Johnson and Scott Wilke.