After a tough, one-point loss at California last week, Colorado came into the first round of the Pac-12 tournament knowing they had something to prove. It took a thriller on Wednesday afternoon against USC to prove their point, and they barely escaped with the 59-56 victory in Vegas.
"When you win and you don't play your best, that's a testament to your mental toughness," head coach Tad Boyle said after the game.
Although the Buffs shot fairly well throughout the game, their defense fell apart in the second half and allowed too many field goals. For the game, the Buffs shot 24-52 from the field (46.2%), 2-9 from the three-point range (22.2%), and 9-16 from the foul line (56.3%).
The Trojans, however, shot 22-55 from the field (40.0%), 5-22 from behind the arc (22.7%), and 7-10 from the free throw line (70.0%).
"Sometimes, you got to win ugly, and we won ugly tonight," Boyle said.
On the other hand, this win gave Colorado its 22nd victory of the year, a feat that tied for the fourth most wins of the season; Coach Boyle owns three of those four records in his four years with Colorado.
The game got off to a quick start for the Trojans, who saw two consecutive baskets from center Oraby to put them up 4-0 early. The Buffs immediately responded to tie up the game at four, and then game went back and forth from there.
Every time the Buffs gained any race of a lead, the Trojans fought to stay close with them. By the end of the half, the teams saw five tied scores and three lead changes.
The Buffs played well on offense, shooting 13-25 from the field (52.0%), 2-7 from downtown (28.6%), but only managed to make one of their five free throws (20.0%). They shot much better than the Trojans, however, who went 11-28 from the field (39.3%), 1-8 from beyond the arc (12.5%), and made four of their five free throws (80.0%).
While the Buffaloes outplayed the Trojans on offense, their lack of sufficient defense throughout the first half was what ultimately kept the game within a possession, 29-27, as the two teams went into the break.
The dogfight continued into the second half. The Trojans immediately tied it up at 29, and the lead changes and tied scores followed suit as they did in the first half. Over the course of 16 minutes, the score was tied another five times and the lead changed four times again.
After a rough offensive stretch from the Buffaloes, in which they lost the lead for six minutes, they managed to tie the game back up at 50 with seven minutes remaining. After that, Josh Scott woke up and scored six straight points, which was complemented by another two from Booker.
That stretch gave them the boost they needed, and their biggest lead of the game, 58-50. Within the final minutes, USC managed to close the gap to one possession going into the final seconds, 59-56.
With just under 10 seconds left, the Trojans regained possession of the ball and had one last chance to send the game into overtime. But, despite Byron Wesley's three-point attempt with two seconds left, they weren't able to make it happen.
The Buffaloes ran away with a narrow victory, 59-56. With this win, the Buffs will advance to the next round of the tournament, during which they will play California at 3:36 MST on Thursday, Mar. 13.
To get the second 'W' that the team desires, Booker said," I think we need more plays like I had tonight, those winning plays. Cal is a very good team, especially with Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon, those two players, they lead their team very well."
Boyle agreed, adding that, "(California) doesn't want their season to end. They don't want their Pac-12 first game to be their last game. We want to keep playing, so it's going to be a hell of a game." Welcome to March. The Madness has begun.