Can they do it once more?
The USC Trojans have bounced back from poor showings on the road with electric performances at home all season. Last weekend, they were swept by the Arizona schools after playing without much energy or enthusiasm for the first three halves before trying to turn it on a little too late against Arizona.
Now, USC has to try to bounce back against the quietly stellar Colorado Buffaloes, who come to town a game out of first place in the Pac-12 standings. The Trojans will have to bring energy and tempo and get the crowd involved so that the Galen Center can start rocking much like it was against UCLA the last time the Trojans were at home.
Both teams shoot the outside shot well and could be without a big man as Colorado's leading scorer and rebounder Josh Scott is a game-time decision and USC reserve Darion Clark has been out for two weeks with a separated shoulder. That could mean a gunslinging environment where both teams are launching three-pointers.
Here's what else to watch, where you can see the game, a flashback to the last time these teams played and the projected starting lineups.
What to Watch:
Home Cooking - Whether it's sleeping in their own beds the night before, having nutritionist Becci Twombley around to give them their shots of beet juice before the game or just playing in the familiar confines of Galen Center, USC has been a much better basketball team at home than on the road. While the stat sheet proves it, the one number that matters is that USC is 14-0 at home and just 4-7 elsewhere.
Their unblemished home mark has carried the Trojans, but it won't be easy to maintain that perfection in the final four home games. Over the next three weeks, USC faces three of the four teams it now trails in the Pac-12 standings, including the mountain schools this week and a regular season finale against Pac-12 leader Oregon.
The Trojans have set the school record for most home wins to start a season and now have 15 in a row dating back to their final game in Galen Center last year, but they will have to win out to tie the school record for consecutive home wins. USC’s longest home winning streak was 20 games from 1939-41 with six wins at the end of the 1939 season, all 10 games during the 1940 seaon and the first four of the 1941 season.
Balancing Act - USC continues to be successful this season thanks to their team basketball concept. The Trojans share the basketball with one another and aren't afraid to pass up a good shot for a great shot. That unselfishness has manifested itself on the stat sheet in the form of balanced scoring with six players averaging double figures, including all five starters scoring between 12.0 and 12.7 points per game. USC has had eight different players score in double figures with six of those players scoring 20+ points at least once. In nine games, the Trojans have had five or more players score in double figures.
The Trojans are also third in the Pac-12 in assists per game at 15.6 -- just 0.2 behind conference-leading Utah. Passing first and focusing on taking open looks versus contested shots is something that doesn't come natural to many players. It has taken some time for Andy Enfield to finally ingrain the throught into his players, but that is what has made USC successful this season.
#ItTakesATeam - The team's motto this year has never been more evident than when a player has been missing. Five of USC's seven losses have come with a player banged up. First it was Jordan McLaughlin breaking his nose and dealing with mask issues. Then Julian Jacobs has ankle issues. When he exited the Washington game, the Huskies stormed back from what had been a 22-point deficit to get the win. Now Darion Clark is out after separating his shoulder in practice.
Clark might not seem like a big piece to lose with him averaging just 11.8 minutes and 2.8 points per game, but he has provided crucial minutes in the post. Coming off the bench, he gives the Trojans another body to bang and battle down low, especially on the defensive glass. With Clark out the last three games, they have given up 42 offensive rebounds. USC has struggled in the category at times this season, but it hadn't been the recurring theme it has been in the last three games.
And the best example actually comes from the Arizona game where the Wildcats only finished with nine offensive rebounds (after UCLA and Arizona State had 33 combined). In the first half, Arizona reserve big men Dusan Ristic and Mark Tollefsen came off the bench to grab seven combined offensive boards. Clark likely would have been in at the same time and might have been able to do more than the Trojans' other big men.
Know Thy Enemy - Colorado is one of the most under-the-radar consistent programs in the country. No one really talks about how successful Tad Boyle has been as the Buffaloes. Boyle has won 63 percent of his games with Colorado and produced four 20+ win seasons with another likely this year. The Buffaloes had a three-year streak of NCAA tournament appearances snapped last year, but should be back for March Madness this season.
Colorado is a tough team to stop defensively. The Buffaloes knock down outside shots and rebound when they don't. They lead the Pac-12 shooting nearly 40 percent from three-point range thanks to George King making 45.4 percent of his 119 attempts and Dominique Collier hitting 46.5 of his 73 three-pointers. The Buffaloes are also third in the nation grabbing 42.96 rebounds per game. Their rebounding margin (+9.4) is ninth in the nation, but their rebounding efforts could take a hit based on the status of Josh Scott.
Sidelined Scott? - For the majority of the last three games, the Buffaloes have been without their best player, Josh Scott. He went down with an ankle injury in the first half of a loss to Oregon State and missed last weekend's pair of tight victories against the Washington schools. The Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year finalist leads the team with 16.7 points and 9.1 rebounds, so it would be a big boost to get him back tonight. He is currently listed as a game-time decision and head coach Tad Boyle has not wavered on that throughout the week.
If Scott does play, expect USC to try to draw him outside with their bigs and try to attack off the dribble to test his lateral mobility on the bum ankle. If he's unable to go, it'll be up to Colorado junior Wesley Gordon to continue his strong play. Gordon has recorded a double-double in each of the last three games.
Last Matchup: Colorado won 98-94 (3OT) on Jan. 29, 2015.
Career highs were flying around the building and so was the excitement as USC and Colorado battled back and forth for an extra 15 minutes, but in the end the Buffaloes were able to pull away for the win. Katin Reinhardt's career-high 35 points and Nikola Jovanovic's career-high 30 points were trumped by Colorado guard Askia Booker. The Los Angeles native poured in a career-high 43 points, including eight in the final overtime period.
Where to Watch:
Game Time, TV channel: 8:00 p.m. PST, ESPNU (Roy Philpott, Adrian Branch)
Radio: ESPN 710, TuneIn Radio (Chris Fisher, Jordan Moore)
Projected Starting Lineups:
G - Xavier Talton (6-2 senior)
G - Dominique Collier (6-2 sophomore)
G - George King (6-6 sophomore)
F - Wesley Gordon (6-9 junior)
F - Tory Miller (6-9 sophomore)
G - Julian Jacobs (6-4 junior)
G - Jordan McLaughlin (6-1 sophomore)
G - Katin Reinhardt (6-6 junior)
F - Bennie Boatwright (6-10 freshman)
F - Nikola Jovanovic (6-11 junior)