By Rich Ruben
When the Trojans took the floor for pregame warmups, the scoreboard displayed the PAC 12 standings. If the players looked up, they could see that SC was in first place at 6-2, and Oregon, Stanford and their Saturday night opponent Colorado each had three losses. By the time the 78-57 CU beat down mercifully ended, things looked very different. Playing before what appeared to be the largest crowd of the season, and in perhaps the most important home game in a few seasons, the Trojans played a poor first half and an even worse second half. The crowd which was primed to explode instead began to file out with about seven minutes left and CU up by over 20.
The Trojans started quickly and led 6-0 less than a minute into the game, after Daniel made a three and Onyeka made an old fashioned three point play. But it was all downhill from there. The Trojans trailed 33-24 at the break, making only 9-29 from the field including 3-12 from three. But there was still reason for optimism. The Trojans had come back from poor first halves and won several games, including the win over Utah on Thursday night, but there was no second half magic against a good Colorado team.
At the under 12 minute break in the second half the Trojans had 28 points and had made just 27% of their shots. Meanwhile, the SC defense which had been solid most of the season, also fell apart, allowing the Buffs to make 62.5% of their second half shots including 5-10 from three. The Trojans started scoring late in the game, but every basket was matched by CU. As it turned out, the Trojan highlight of the night was an appearance by Jordan MacLaughlin, but all he could do was toss t-shirts into the stands during a second half timeout.
Some of the familiar problems were solved for one night. The Trojans made 8-11 from the line, and had only 11 turnovers. But the fact that they only attempted 11 free throws helps explain the big margin. SC could not solve the CU defense until well after the game was over. Onyeka missed several shots near the rim, and was held to only 8 shots and 10 points. Nick also took only 8 shots and finished with 6 points. The bigs were double teamed near the basket, and had trouble finding room inside the packed-in defense. The guards tried to drive inside over and over without success, missing shots, taking wild shots, getting shots blocked, or losing the ball. Jonah was 4-15, and a dreadful 2-10 from inside the arc.
CU had some good fortune, but the Buffs were clearly the better team by a large margin. They took advantage of several open lanes to the rim, made a few tough shots as the shot clock ran down, and their four bigs were a collective 6-7 from three, even tough only one had been a good long range shooter coming in.
Isaiah led SC with 12 points, including one made three, but most of his points came well after the game was decided and he had only 1 rebound in 22 minutes. Daniel was 3-4 including 2-3 three pointers, but he struggled defending the physical Buffs. Interior defense was a problem all night; the Trojans did not block a shot and they could not contain the very fast Colorado point guard McKinley Wright. Wright had 12 points, along with 8 assists, and continually drew Trojan defenders which left teammates open for good shots.
A week after playing their best game of the season at Oregon State and making almost 73% of their second half shots, the Trojans are now in a two game team shooting slump. They travel to Arizona for games against UofA and ASU next week, and they need answers in a hurry.
With about 5 minutes remaining, CU coach Tad Boyle exploded at Tyler Bey, when Bey drew a technical for hanging on the rim after his dunk gave the Buffs a 27 point lead. Two minutes later, Boyle was in the face of a referee arguing an offensive charging call. He wanted this beat down badly.
Pre And Post Game Comments From Andy
– Before the game, Andy was very upbeat. He said that the Trojans have been defending at a very high level all season. In explaining some of the team’s offensive inconsistency, he said that 7 of the 10 players are new, and they rely a lot on the five freshmen. They need the veterans to play well in stretches where the freshmen are struggling.
– Kyle Sturdivant was suffering from the stomach flu and Andy did not expect him to play. As it turned out, Kyle was in uniform and participated in warmups, but did not play.
– After the game Andy said the Trojans missed layups, post shots and threes. “When we’re bad offensively, we are really bad. Guys who play a lot of minutes just have to play better.” In referring to the three losses by 20 plus points, he said that “when we’re bad, we’re really bad.”
– Andy said that the Trojans are not getting transition baskets, and are missing a lot of shots they need to make. They passed up some open shots in favor of drives into the lane where the defense had sagged and there was no opportunity to get a good shot.
– When asked what he said to the team after the game, he said: “There is not a lot to say after a loss like this. It’s not the time in the locker room after a game like this to get on the players.”
Post Game Comments From Isaiah
– He thought CU did a good job getting ready for SC’s offensive plays, and “the defense sunk in as we missed shots.”
– The players were aware of the good fan support for this game, but he thought the players’ energy dropped off after the quick start. They have come out flat in some games and were able to play better in the second half and win. The team was “confident“ at halftime that they could come back.
– They were “a step slow on some of the defensive rotations. “(CU) made us work on defense, and they made some tough shots.”
There is really nothing positive to take away from this game. The Trojans have bounced back from each prior loss this season and won the next game. They need to quickly turn the page again.
These next few games feel like they may define the season. The Trojans play the Arizona schools on the road this week and the Washington schools at home the week after. Andy reminded everyone after the game that the Trojans are 17-5 and 6-3 in conference games, but this one sided home loss leaves some tarnish on that record. Two bad offensive games at home likely causes some doubt in the minds of the staff and players.
In order to secure a first round bye in the conference tournament and make sure they are in the NCAA field, the Trojans probably need to win six of the final nine. The schedule includes two games against Arizona and a game at Colorado. These three games will be very tough. Can the Trojans beat ASU twice, win at Utah, and sweep the Washingtons and UCLA at home? Are they as resilient as Elijah said they were after the big Stanford comeback? There is still a lot of basketball left this season and a lot to prove.