Returning from its two-game series in the Bay Area last week, the men’s basketball team is preparing to take the floor Wednesday night when it will play host to the Colorado Buffaloes at the Galen Center. The Trojans split their conference contests up north last week.
An 80-62 victory over Cal (7-9, 1-2) on Jan. 4 was Andy Enfield’s first road win against the Golden Bears in his five-year tenure as head coach of Troy. However, USC (11-6, 2-2) failed to complete the Bay Area sweep, as the team would lost to Stanford Sunday evening.
In the 77-76 loss to the Cardinal, USC encountered defeat in about the most painstaking way possible. A dazzling finish at the basket from senior guard Jordan McLaughlin resulted in a layup that put the Trojans ahead 76-74 with 1.7 seconds remaining in regulation. Stanford (8-8, 2-1) proceeded to inbound the ball and Cardinal guard Daejon Davis hit a 55-foot 3-point basket as time expired to put a devastating nail in the coffin for Enfield’s Trojans.
“I’ve never lost a game like that one, it’s tough. You think you have the game won when [McLaughlin] makes the shot, but then they just make a spectacular, spectacular play,” Enfield said. “There’s not a lot you can say after a finish like that … It was an emotional roller coaster, everyone was upset, but you just have to regroup and move on now.”
Entering the Galen Center Wednesday night is a Colorado (10-6, 2-2) team which is coming off of a pair of strong home wins against the highly ranked Arizona schools. The Buffaloes topped a then-No. 4 ranked Arizona State team, 90-81, in a contest that went to overtime on Jan. 4. Colorado followed that performance up with an 80-77 upset of then-No. 14 ranked Arizona this past Saturday.
Colorado’s leading scorer, freshman guard McKinley Wright, averaged 17.5 PPG, 7.5 APG and 3.5 RPG in both contests and collected Pac-12 Player of the Week honors last week.
“Colorado’s playing well, they’ve picked up strong home wins, but now it’s time for our guys to do the same and hold down their home court,” Enfield said. “Especially in these conference games.”
If USC is going to bounce back against the Buffs, they will look to force Colorado into taking tough shots. USC is 6-0 this season when limiting the opposition to lower than 40 percent shooting from the field. In contrast, the Trojans have posted a 5-6 record when opponents shoot above the 40-percent benchmark.
“Our defense has been picking up, that’s definitely been one of our biggest focus points,” said McLaughlin, who recorded 16 points and seven rebounds in the team’s loss to Stanford. “Our offense is doing just fine, averaging around 80 points per game. Defense is what we’ve been working on daily, and it’s getting better too.”
McLaughlin currently leads the Pac-12 in assists per game, at 7.9. He will look to get USC’s vast array of offensive weapons involved early and often against Colorado. The Trojan arsenal includes junior forwards Chimezie Metu (averaging a team-high 17.2 PPG) and Bennie Boatwright (16.6 PPG, team-high 7.3 RPG). A competent defensive effort and the utilization of their veteran offensive talent will be key factors in determining whether USC can boost its conference record past the .500 mark.
“Tomorrow night’s game is going to mean a lot to our team,” said senior guard Elijah Stewart, who is averaging 11.5 PPG this season. “We’ve just got to play our brand of basketball and get the win.”
USC may have some extra motivation entering tomorrow night’s contest following comments made by Colorado head coach Tad Boyle. Following the Buffs’ win against Arizona, a reporter asked Boyle whether the win against the Wildcats gave him “extra satisfaction” due to the fact that Arizona was involved in FBI investigations regarding corruption this offseason.
“Absolutely, there is [extra satisfaction] … I’ve got great respect for Arizona coach Sean Miller and the kind of coach he is,” Boyle said. “[Arizona] recruits very, very well … USC has recruited very, very well. The two most-talented teams in our conference from top-to-bottom are USC and Arizona. So hell yes there’s satisfaction … To answer your question, hell yes there’s more satisfaction.”
USC players did not take too kindly to the coach’s remarks.
“[Colorado’s] coach was kind of bad-mouthing us, so he made it personal,” Stewart said.
Enfield, whose USC basketball program was involved in the same FBI investigation as Arizona, issued a public statement following the team’s Tuesday practice.
“We are disappointed in Tad Boyle’s comments and what they imply,” Enfield said. “Not only is it unfair for someone to comment, who doesn’t have all the facts, but those comments are unfair to those of us involved with the USC men’s basketball program. Most importantly to our student-athletes and their families, they are outstanding young men who chose USC to earn a world-class education and to compete for championships.”