|A deservingly happy group of Buffaloes. From: the BDC.|
The lack of Scott was made known about a half hour before the game. Colorado's prized power forward was sidelined with back spasms, leaving the still-developing grouping of Wes Gordon, Dustin Thomas, and Tory Miller to go toe-to-toe with one of the better forward corps in the West. The thing is, forced to dig deep, the trio answered the bell with a ferocious defense of the rim that really helped CU cover up the loss of Jelly. Keyed by a career performance for Gordon, who finished three blocks shy of a triple-double with an 11/14/7 line, the Buffs more than held their own in the paint. More importantly, they got their counterparts embroiled in foul trouble to open up the lane, keeping options open for the offense.
|Wes Gordon stepped up on defense in Scott's absence. From: the BDC|
On the perimeter, the tandem of Askia Booker and Jaron Hopkins continued to develop, with both proving able to push the pace and break down the defense. I'm really starting to like what I see from the pair, and the offense has a different timbre to it when both are on the court. They combined for 27/9/5/4 against UCLA, and, while there were still mistakes, played well.
|Great win, Coach, but are you sure about that color of shirt when playing UCLA? From: the BDC|
The focus now turns to the USC Trojans. CU needs a win today to fully capitalize on Friday's victory over UCLA. Southern Cal is a youthful enigma, and should be beatable, especially at home, but I'm still not convinced that the Buffs are fully on the mend. How they approach today's game will tell us all a lot.
Tip-off from the CEC (now with beer!) is set for high noon today. For those not able to make it up to Boulder, coverage can be found on Pac-12 Networks, with the radio call on 850 KOA.
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When last we met -
Speaking of ugly wins, the last time USC and Colorado got together, in last year's Pac-12 Tournament, that's exactly what BuffNation was treated to. The Buffs found themselves pushed around by the bigger Trojans, allowing what should've been a fast-paced up-and-down affair to devolve into a possession by possession struggle. CU came dangerously close to inviting uncomfortable questions about their Tournament competency, but correctly responded when pressed mid-way through the second half. A few heroics from Askia Booker was just what the doctor ordered, and Colorado snuck into the quarterfinals by ripping off a 59-56 scab of a victory.
|Oraby muted Scott for much of the afternoon. From: the BDC|
It all came to a head mid-way through the second half when USC, behind a 23-point day from Byron Wesley, opened up a five-point lead on the Buffs. Luckily, that's when Askia Booker took over. On the following possessions, Ski scored three straight baskets, grabbed a huge defensive rebound, and assisted on a game-tying bucket from Xavier Johnson. For a brief moment, it was Booker's world, we were all just living in it -- and USC was helpless to stop it. The sparkplug guard would finish with 21/7/4 for Colorado against only one turnover on 53% shooting. Just a masterful performance.
|Ski came alive in the nick of time. From: the BDC|
The Trojans in 2014-15 -
It's all about youth in University Park. Players like Wesley (transfer to Gonzaga) and Oraby (graduation) are gone, leaving the Trojans a completely different entity this season. They're starting four sophomores and a freshman point guard each night, and it shows. There have been some highs (like a 12-point win over New Mexico in the Pit), but many more lows (embarrassing home losses to Portland State and Army). They come in at an inconsistent 8-5, but Friday's 24-point loss at Utah shows exactly where they're headed. While the roster is getting closer towards the Andy Enfield ideal, they're still miles away from relevancy in the Pac-12.
|USC shocked everyone with their win in the Pit, but that hasn't lead to continued glory.|
The Trojans also like to get out in transition. Over 26% of all of their shots come within the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, helping them keep the tempo up. They usually play their games in the high 60s, with offensive possessions around 15 seconds per. I don't know if that's a product of youthful urgency or an active plan, but it is what it is. They get the ball out early and often, so CU needs to be prepared to play aggressive early in the defensive shot clock.
|The Trojans had no answer for Utah two nights ago.|
Star Players -
Probably the biggest key for USC is the development of freshman point guard Jordan McLaughlin. It's not ideal to have your team lead by a frosh, but the kid has serious talent, and should blossom in Enfield's point-heavy style. Coach Enfield had to win a high-profile recruiting battle with UCLA for his services, and has shown no qualms with throwing him into the heat of battle early and often. Tellingly, the young Californian leads the team in points, steals, and minutes while posting a top-50 assist ratio. There are some cracks in the foundation - he misses too many free throws (65%), hasn't developed his outside shot (29%), and also leads the team in turnovers - but, overall, is living up to his billing. He's fighting off a shoulder injury sustained two nights ago in Utah, but I would expect him to play today.
|McLaughlin could be the key to a revitalization of USC basketball.|
|Reinhardt doesn't strike me as the perfect fit for Enfield and the Trojans.|
Down low, the lead post is 6-11 Serbian Nikola Jovanovic. Owner of some solid rebounding numbers, he's really the only interior threat from the Trojans. Jovanovic averages about 12/8 each game, and could be tough to handle if Josh Scott is still out.
|Jovanovic is the key interior presence for USC.|
Coach Andy Enfield is fighting though his second season at USC, still mired in a painful rebuilding effort that looks to require additional time to complete. It has to be an uncomfortable reality for Enfield, who seemed to crave the Hollywood limelight when he bolted from Florida Gulf Coast for the first high profile job he could find. Under his watch, the Trojans are a sad 2-13 in Pac-12 play, and still miles from competitive.
|Still a long way to go for Enfield in LA.|
(My record on the season: 1-2. Against the spread: 2-1. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU -1.33 pts/gm)
Lines as of Saturday at 10pm: CU -10, O/U 136
Any momentum gained by the strong performance against UCLA could be immediately vacated with a stumble against the Trojans. The Buffs need to come out strong, keep their foot on the gas, keep USC out of transition, and force them into jump shots.
One key could be free throw shooting. The Trojans are under 60% from the stripe their last eight games, and, other than Reinhardt (79%), I don't think a single Trojan could be counted on to hit freebies consistently. If it comes down to crunch time, that could be the difference between a win and loss for Colorado.
In the end, I expect CU to win, if only because the young Trojans shouldn't be (yet) capable of winning on the road in Pac-12 play. The zone could frustrate that effort, but USC's free throw and three point issues should act as a firewall against complete disaster.
CU 70 - USC 59
GO BUFFS! PROVE ME RIGHT, AND BEAT THE TROJANS!