Buffs survive upset bid, hold off USC in first round of Pac-12 tournament

Colorado head coach Tad Boyle talks to his team during a timeout of a first-round Pac-12 Tournament game between Colorado and Southern California on Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. (Kai Casey/CU Independent)

Perhaps it was complacency, or perhaps it was because USC had nothing to lose. Regardless, the University of Colorado Buffaloes found Wednesday’s first-round matchup in the Pac-12 tournament tougher than anyone anticipated. The Buffs survived, pulling out a 59-56 victory behind junior guard Askia Booker’s 21 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists in Las Vegas.

Sophomore forward Josh Scott, named First-Team All-Pac-12 on Monday, also added 13 points and 9 rebounds despite shooting only 4-of-14 from the field. 

Colorado won despite 23 points produced by USC junior guard Byron Wesley. For much of the game, it appeared that Wesley and senior center Omar Oraby, 7-foot-2 and impossibly long, would lead the Trojans to an upset. 

Oraby scored the game’s first four points and guarded Scott in the post better than most bigs have all season. Sophomore forward Xavier Johnson kept the Buffs in the game early on, despite scoring only 11 points. Six of those came on back-to-back threes – the only treys Colorado made in the game – in the first four minutes. 

Colorado beat USC by a combined 30 points in their two regular season meetings, so today’s competitiveness was unexpected.

It was USC’s terrible three-point shooting that saved the Buffs today, as the Trojans shot 22 percent from beyond the arc. Senior guard Pe’Shon Howard doomed USC by shooting only 1-of-9 from deep. 

From Colorado’s bench, freshman forward Dustin Thomas was the only player to record points. Senior center Ben Mills posted a trillion (one minute of play with no recorded statistics), and freshman forward Tre’Shaun Fletcher missed his only shot. This was his first game action since suffering a knee injury in the same game Spencer Dinwiddie tore his ACL. Still, the Buffs carried a 29-27 lead into halftime.  

Colorado’s bigs drew Oraby into foul trouble, and he was a non-factor in the second half. With him gone, the score remained close until the Buffs used an 8-0 run to build their most substantial lead with 3:09 left in the game. Scott finally asserted himself, scoring six consecutive points for Colorado during that stretch. 

USC closed the gap to three, but Wesley missed a game-tying shot at the buzzer, and the Buffs escaped the MGM Grand victorious for at least one night. 

In less than 24 hours, Colorado will continue the familiar grind of a conference tournament. They face a University of California team that beat them last Saturday. Though their NCAA tournament position is now likely secure, the Buffs won’t be content with replicating last year’s second-round exit. If they beat Cal, they set up a likely grudge match with University of Arizona in the semifinals. 

Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Tommy Wood at Thomas.c.wood@colorado.edu.

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