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Colorado loses nail-biter to USC, falls to 0-5 in conference play

The Buffs fought furiously, but couldn’t edge the Trojans

NCAA Basketball: Southern California at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into Sunday night’s USC game, everyone in the Western Hemisphere knew this was a must-win game for Colorado against No. 25 USC. With a loss, Colorado would be in serious trouble of falling into the abyss. With a win, they would still have hope to right the ship. Alas, Colorado lost, 71-68, and the season may be lost.

Colorado looked great early on, particularly on offense. The Buffs were faced with a zone defense and shot over it with much success. This was never a sustainable strategy for the Buffs, but it propelled Colorado’s offense in a high-scoring first half.

Dominique Collier, the sharpshooter he is, led the Buffs with 9 points, all of which coming on threes. Josh Fortune, recently demoted to the bench, had a great half himself as he made intelligent and high-effort plays everywhere on the court; with games like that, he could be a spark plug off the bench down the stretch.

Of course, basketball isn’t won by offense alone. While the Buffs were draining 7-11 threes, the defense was giving up tons of points inside. Chimezie Metu, USC’s uber-talented center, flashed his potential as he scored 20 points on 9-10 shooting in the first half. Colorado experimented with various defensive looks, but nothing could stop Metu or USC’s interior attack. Colorado led by as many as 11, but because of their interior defense (or lack thereof) and turnover struggles (they had 11 in the first half), the Buffs’ lead was down to one at the break.

The second half started with George King’s grandeur ... and more poor Colorado defense. To focus on the bright side, King hit three-pointers on back-to-back possessions, made great hustle plays and threw down a monster dunk (payback on the rim for all the times it’s denied King). He led the Buffs in both points (16) and rebounds (9) and did everything he could to keep Colorado afloat.

After King’s pair of makes, Colorado made only two three-pointers the rest of the night. Once their shots weren’t falling, the Buffs had to generate offense elsewhere (always a dubious sentence). Led by Derrick White, they worked hard to good shots, but they were simple unable to convert. If there’s anything to blame the loss on, it would be Colorado getting dominated inside on both ends. USC outscored Colorado 36-22 in the paint, and it felt like more somehow.

Colorado picked up their defense late in the game and hung on just long enough to make a serious run at the victory. With grit and determination (and a miraculous shot from XJ), Colorado turned a 67-60 USC lead with 2:30 left in the game into a 68-67 Colorado lead with 30 seconds left. USC then exchanged George King made free throws for missed shots and that was that. Colorado fell 71-68 and are now 0-5 in the Pac-12 and 10-8 overall.

Next up for the Buffs is a road game at Washington on Wednesday, January 18th and airs on ESPNU at 9pm. The Huskies have been bad this season, but they have lots of talent and play on cursed hardwood, so the Buffs will have their hands full.