By Rich Ruben
Jeriah Horne, a 6’7” senior, had a career night and no Trojan or pair of Trojans scored big points. The result was an ugly 80-62 loss, USC’s sixth straight loss to the Buffs. It drops USC to 19-5 on the season and 13-4 in the Pac 12, a half game behind UCLA and even with Oregon in the loss column. The Trojans and Bruins will play the final game of the season a week from Saturday in what may be a game for the conference regular season title. It’s a hone game for the Bruins who are undefeated this year at home UCLA finishes at Colorado, at Oregon and with the Trojans and will have played one less conference game than USC. The Trojans have now lost two of their last three games and have to find answers quickly.
Not much went right for USC, but Horne was by far the biggest problem. He made 9-12 shots including 6-9 from three and was the leading rebounder in the game with 11. The Trojans had no answer for him. Coach Enfield said that Horne made shots over Trojan guards and bigs; he had a couple of open shots when the defense didn’t rotate quickly enough but Enfield said most of Horne’s shots were tough and contested.
The Buffs dominated this game from every standpoint, but Horne made the difference. CU made 27-57 (47%) of their shots and 12-22 from three. Consider this: take out Horne’s numbers and the rest of the team 18-45 shots and 6-13 threes. Make no mistake, Colorado deserved to win; Enfield said “(w)e deserved what we got tonight”, but one player made what could have been a close game into a rout, similar to what Tahj Eaddy did in the first half against Oregon.
The Trojans struggled on both ends though the problems on defense were more surprising. USC has not always scored or shot at a high level but they almost always have played strong defense but not in this game.
In order to have an opportunity to win the regular season conference title and grab high seeds in Las Vegas and in the Big Dance the coaching staff and players have a lot of work to do. It starts with the game at Utah which is now a “must win”.
The Team Stats Were Very One Sided
The Trojans made only 23-60 (38%) of their shots and 5-16 from three. They made only 11-18 from the line but poor free throw shooting didn’t lose this game. CU was very good but only outscored USC by three from the line.
The Buffs were tough on the boards and totaled one more rebound than USC, which was a key factor. The Trojans did out rebound CU on the offensive glass 13-8, but they had more chances with 37 missed shots. The turnovers were only 12-11 in CU’s favor but they outscored the Trojans 17-3 on points off turnovers. Colorado had 20 assists on their 27 made shots, most coming from their star point guard McKinley Wright, while the Trojans had only 7.
Enfield said that “the ball stuck with our guards too much, especially in the first half.” He noted that Evan Mobley had 4 first half turnovers and explained that Evan held the ball and the CU guards able to dig it out. Enfield said that CU didn’t do anything different or unanticipated. The two leading scorers for the Trojans this season, Evan and Tahj Eaddy, didn’t have big scoring nights and no one else picked up the scoring in their place. The Trojans will struggle unless at least one of the two are having good scoring games.
Colorado Led The Entire Game But The Trojans Had Their Chances
At the 6:49 mark of the first half USC closed to within 22-19 and were down only four with 3:20 left when they stopped scoring. In the last few minutes the Buffs went on a run leading to the 42-29 half time deficit. Only five Trojans scored in the first half and Ethan Anderson had only two points. The best first half players for USC on the offensive end were Isaiah White who made 3-4 shots for 9 points; he scored the first six Trojan points and no one else scored until the 11:42 mark. Chevez Goodwin scored 7 first half points, making 3-5 shots and his only free throw. They were the only two Trojans who looked ready to play when the game began. Isaiah Mobley started and played nine minutes in the first half and didn’t score or get a rebound. He scored his first points at the 7:49 mark in the second half.
The Buffs led by 17 with 11:59 left when the Trojans committed three fouls on one possession within ten seconds. Nothing was working very well. Enfield put Noah Baumann into the game with about nine minutes left and he made two quick shots for 5 points. His quick shot on the next possession was an air ball. Isaiah Mobley blocked a shot that went in anyway; it was that type of game.
USC went on a brief run cutting a 16 point lead to 10 in just over a minute with 4:22 left. After a Colorado timeout the Trojans played very good defense on the next possession. McKinley Wright tried a tough shot in the lane to beat the shot clock and on what Enfield labeled a “tough call” a foul was called on Ethan Anderson. The two foul shots ended the game.
Enfield noted that the Trojans didn’t run the Buffs off the three point line when they were making their threes. He thought the Trojans played better defensively when they went to a zone. “They put us on our heels defensively tonight. When shooters are making shots they are hard the beat.”
USC Didn’t Allow Wright To Score But He Had Twice As Many Assists As The Trojans
It was a surprise that CU could dominate without Wright having a good shooting game. Wright made only 4-14 from the floor but Enfield said he found open teammates and totaled 14 assists.
The Trojans Struggled To Score All Night
Evan and Tahj led USC with 13 points apiece. Evan made 6-13 shots and Tahj made only 3-9 from the floor though he did make two of his three three point attempts. Isaiah White didn’t score in the second half and Chevez added only one second half basket.
Enfield summed it up concisely: “We didn’t make enough shots. We had open shots and just didn’t make them.” He added that they missed three or four layups off turnovers and missed 6-7 shots near the rim.
Drew Peterson reverted to “bad Drew’ and Ethan Anderson made only 1-3 shots and did not have an assist. No one wearing black played a good game.
This was a high profile game televised on ESPN and attended by members of the national media. It was a bad time for the Trojans to play their worst game of the season on both ends. The loss leaves USC little or no margin for error in order to win the regular season title, though the other two contenders also have tough games coming up.
After the game Enfield said that if they meet Colorado again they may play a lot more zone. He thought the zone was more effective than the Trojans’ usual man defense.
The Trojans will likely not suffer a big hit in the rankings, losing on the road to a team in the NET top 25. The KenPom computer rankings, including Thursday’s games, have USC ranked 15 and Colorado 16; UCLA is 39 and Oregon 43. In the next ESPN brackets it is likely the Trojans will fall from a four to a five seed.
While all of this keeps the fan base of every team buzzing the Trojans can’t and hopefully won’t get caught up in these numbers and projections. Far more important is for the coaching staff to figure out why the team has lost two of three and played so poorly after a good win over Oregon three days ago. If altitude was a factor it should be far less so in Salt Lake on Saturday after several days in altitude.
This still can be a special season but for everyone who has talked about championships and elite eights, this past week has been a reminder that this team will usually need several of its rotation players to consistently play well from here on out. On offense the rest of the Trojans will get much better shots when Evan and Tahj are scoring. It might not be fair to put the team’s burden on their shoulders, but that’s where it lies.