USCs 2nd half comeback effort fell just short against Colorado in the semi-finals of the Pac-12 Tournament. The Buffalos will move on the face Oregon State in the championship round of the conference tournament after they edged the Trojans 72-70 Friday night.
As USC fans have come to expect throughout the course of this season, this game was marked by competing runs. Colorado jumped out to a commanding first half lead, aided by a 17-0 run that spanned roughly eight minutes. Down 20-6 the Trojans played diligent basketball and were able to cut the lead down to 9 at the half. Colorado, who defeated USC for the 3rd time this season, was led by all-conference G McKinley Wright, Keeshawn Bradley and D'Shawn Schwartz. Wright was a prefect 3-3 from the field and contributed 13 at the intermission. Bradley and Schwartz added 8 and 7 points respectively on an uber-efficient 5-6 shooting.
USC struggled to find its rhythm in the early goings, as a stifling Colorado defense held the Trojans to just 6 points in the first 10 minutes. In dire need of points, the Trojans turned to a good place, Evan Mobley single handedly kept the Trojans afloat in the first half adding 17 first half points. Colorado seemed determined to keep Mobley out of the paint, and the Freshman Center was happy to burn the Buffalos with a steady supply of mid-range jump shots. A Noah Baumann 3 from the corner cut the lead to single digits at the half.
The second half was much more competitive as the teams exchanged blows for the first 10 minutes. USC was able to work the Colorado lead down to 5 points with 10 minutes left, and the game turned into a dog fight. USC was able to come back from a 12 point deficit with under 4 minutes remaining, and ultimately tie the game with just 36 seconds left after a Tahj Eaddy 3 point play.
The final sequence is one that may haunt Coach Andy Enfield for some time. Everyone knew that McKinley Wright was going to get the final shot for Colorado, he has been the undisputed leader of the Colorado program for the past 4 years, and has come through for Tad Boyle countless times. Enfield elected to put Ethan Anderson on Wright. Anderson is the most physical of the Trojan guards and is the best perimeter defender on the team. EA did a great job staying with Wright, and Evan was there to switch on the high screen. Mobley disrupted the shot which was off target, however Isiah White did not get a body on D'Shawn Schwartz who was perfectly positioned for the put-back dunk, which he converted with just 3 seconds left.
With one attempt remaining, Andy got creative. Isaiah Mobley threw a pass to his brother at half court who in one motion, caught, turned and released to a streaking Tahj Eaddy towards the 3-point line. Unfortunately, McKinley Wright was able to deflect the pass. Time expired as the ball rolled around the floor giving the Buffalos the win. Enfield pleaded for a foul on Wright, but on replay it appeared to be a clean play and simply good anticipatory defense from Wright.
The Trojans showed a tremendous amount of heart and fight, coming back from a laggard start to make a game of it, and I am sure Andy will use the final 30 minutes to showcase what this team is capable of. USC is a lock to make the tournament, and will hopefully enter next week well-rested with some confidence after a great second half.
Evan Mobley has taken his play up a notch, scoring 26 points on 11-16 shooting. He has found confidence in his shooting stroke, and teams will be forced to guard him at all points in the half court. Behind Mobley Tahj added 11, but no other Trojan reached double figures. USC is 19-0 this season when 3 players reach double digits, a streak that will continue into March Madness.
Colorado will take on the Beavers after Oregon State dismantled rival Oregon. Bubble teams across the country will be playing close attention to the final as the Beavers have an opportunity to become the proverbial "bid-stealer." USC should be seeded as either a 5/6 seed. I have watched a good deal of college basketball this year, and have watched the majority of the top ranked teams. In my eyes, Gonzaga is in a class of its own, they are efficient, deep, creative and talented, and should be able to score against anybody. Behind the Zags, I think there is a group of 5-8 teams that sit in the next tier (the likes of Michigan, Illinois, Baylor, Iowa and Alabama), if USC brings its best game, and are able to convert from outside, the Trojans can compete with anybody.
In basketball, it is often said that if you have the best player on the court, you always have a chance. With the possible exception of Cade Cunningham at Oklahoma State, USC will have the best player on the court in Evan Mobley. If he is able to take the level of play that we have seen in the past few days into Indianapolis, do not count the Trojans out of any game. Mobley makes everyone on this team better, and will draw a crowd of defenders in the tournament, it is up to the likes of Eaddy, Peterson, White and Anderson to contribute from outside. If USC is able to shoot convert roughly 40% of its 3s, watch out!
I will be back in touch as the brackets are released tomorrow afternoon. Until then, take solace in the 2nd half performance of a tough game. Colorado is a good team, and the Trojans went toe-to-toe with them despite a catastrophic first half. It will take 40 minutes of good basketball to win in the tournament, but I am optimistic that Andy has the roster to make some noise.