Balanced Effort Gives Buffs Road Victory
LOS ANGELES (AP) – Getting to this point hasn’t been easy for the Colorado Buffalos, who have become quite adept at overcoming adversity. Playing the last-place team in the Pac-12 Conference a couple of times has really helped pad their record.
Xavier Johnson scored 20 points and coach Tad Boyle’s squad completed a season sweep of Southern California with an 83-74 victory Sunday, sending the Trojans to their sixth straight loss.
Five players scored in double figures for Colorado (19-7, 8-5 Pac-12). This is the school’s best start after 26 games since the 1996-97 squad opened 19-7 and ended up in the NCAA tournament. But the Buffaloes are 5-4 since leading scorer Spencer Dinwiddie’s season ended because of a torn ACL that occurred on Jan. 12 at Washington.
“If you get five guys in double figures every night, we’ll take that,” said Boyle, who also hasn’t had the services of forward Wesley Gordon for three games because of an ankle problem. “Given what we’ve been through, when you look at our team over the last three games — we’re playing without three of our top eight guys from when conference play started.
“But we’ve had some young guys step up. So I’m extremely pleased, considering what we’ve overcome. We could have felt sorry for ourselves and not competed the way these guys have.”
Johnson, Askia Booker (18 points), Josh Scott (17 points), Xavier Talton, and reserve Jaron Hopkins accounted for all but four of Colorado’s points, including a season-high eight 3-pointers on 17 attempts. The Buffalo’s shot exactly 50 percent, making them 7-0 when they do that and 29-2 under those circumstances during Boyle’s four seasons as coach.
“This was a must win for us,” Johnson said. “I mean, for us to be a great program and continually be one, we have to get wins. And as we learn how to play on the road better, we’ll be a top five team.
“It’s all about how we play overall as a team. We don’t measure our success by how the other team plays. We measure it by how we play. And for us to be the best we can, we need to be able to execute down the stretch and close things out.”
Byron Wesley scored 21 points for the Trojans (10-15, 1-11). Their only victory against a Pac-12 opponent was Jan. 22, when they beat California 77-68 at home.
USC played without starting point guard Pe’Shon Howard, who was suspended for a violation of team rules.
“It’s pretty self-explanatory,” first-year coach Andy Enfield said. “When you lose a starting guard who averages over four assists a game and is a senior, it hurts not having him in there. But I’m proud of the guys who came off the bench. They played hard and we had a lot of effort.”
The unranked Buffaloes were 21st in the AP poll the last time they faced USC and beat them 83-62 on Jan. 18 at Boulder. The Trojans missed 11 of their first 12 shots in that one and fell behind 20-2 en route to an 83-62 loss in which they shot 36.8 percent. Colorado is 4-0 against them since the former Pac-10 Conference expanded to Colorado and Utah, and 6-3 against the Trojans overall.
“They played an excellent all-around game. They scored inside and they scored outside,” said Enfield, whose team shot 37.1 percent and had a season-low six assists. “But we shot ourselves in the foot at the worst times. When you miss a lot of layups in the game, you deserve to lose.”
Enfield used his 10th different starting lineup, with freshman guard Kahlil Dukes and senior center D.J. Haley each getting the assignment for the second time this season. Sophomore guard Chass Bryan and sophomore forward Strahinja Gavrilovic each made their third start. The four of them combined for 13 points — including a game-opening 3 by Dukes, who didn’t score again.
“Losing is never fun but it’s helping us grow together as a team,” Bryan said. “We’ve lost some close games, which is frustrating, but we’re not getting frustrated as a team. It’s kind of tough to mesh in your first year together, but we’re working hard to try to get through it. We still have a lot of games left. We can still be a Cinderella team.”
In USC’s previous three games, the Trojans gave up runs of 12-0 to Oregon, 14-0 and 10-0 against UCLA and 15-0 against Utah in Thursday’s 79-71 loss. All of those rallies came in the first 10 minutes of the second half. This time, they had a pivotal lapse in the first 10 minutes of the first half that put them in a hole they couldn’t climb out of.
Wesley, the only player who has started every game for USC, converted a three-point play before Colorado went on a 15-2 run that turned a one-point deficit into a 22-12 lead with 11:15 left in the half. Hopkins scored all 10 of his points off the bench during the rally, including a pair of 3s.
“He was good. He made a couple of 3s, which always helps him, but I thought he was really good defensively,” Boyle said. “I know Wesley had 21 for them, but I thought for the most part he did a pretty good job. He was aggressive in transition and played with a lot of confidence.”
The Buffaloes, who came in averaging a conference-leading five blocked shots, got their only one of the first half when the 6-foot-10 Scott rejected a layup by J.T. Terrell and Booker converted a fast-break layup with 1:33 left to help Colorado take a 40-32 halftime lead.
“We obviously have gotten better offensively,” Boyle said. “I think we’re functioning as a group and really sharing the ball. We had five guys in double figures, so it was a great effort by our team offensively. We can play better — but to win on the road when you don’t play your best and don’t execute down the stretch like you want to, you feel good. We just have to finish stronger.”
The Trojans got no closer after Terrell’s layup trimmed Colorado’s lead to 47-43 with 14:54 to play. Scott scored six points in a 2:44 span, including a dunk that gave the Buffaloes a 72-54 cushion with 3:55 remaining.
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