No. 2 seed Trojans’ luck falls short in Pac-12 tournament semifinal loss to No. 3 seed Buffaloes

Freshman forward Evan Mobley scored a career-high 26 points in the semifinal match against Colorado. (Daily Trojan File Photo)

If there was one player determined to get the last shot for the No. 3 seed Colorado Buffaloes with the game on the line, it was senior guard McKinley Wright IV. He got the ball as the score against the Trojans sat at 70-70, dribbling some 20 seconds off the clock before going to work and putting up a contested midrange jumper which clanked off the left side of the rim. 

Out of nowhere, senior guard D’Shawn Schwartz soared up to the ball and slammed it home for the go-ahead put-back dunk with 3.3 seconds remaining. Seconds later, No. 2 seed USC’s last-second attempt was stolen away by Wright, a move sparking outrage for the Trojan bench who thought redshirt senior Tahj Eaddy had been shoved. The officials didn’t make the call, and the Buffaloes secured their spot in the Pac-12 Championship game with a 72-70 over USC win Friday night in Las Vegas.

“It came down to the last possession,” said head coach Andy Enfield. “Unfortunately, they got an offensive rebound … [On our last possession], we executed perfectly, [Eaddy] broke and Wright pushed him in the back right in front of our bench, and they didn’t call a foul. That was the game.”

The Trojans were able to cut the deficit to just three points midway through the second half but remained outmatched by Colorado’s 3-point shooting. The Buffaloes continued to excel from beyond the arc, shooting 41.67% from 3-point land in the second half. Colorado’s producers were Wright and senior forward Jerian Horne, who combined for 24 of the team’s 36 points from deep. 

“They shoot the ball very well against us,” Enfield said. “If you look at their last couple games, they didn’t shoot it so well, but tonight they were on fire again, so give them credit.”

Early on in the first half, Pac-12 Player of the Year nominee Wright took an elbow to the face from redshirt senior position Chevez Goodwin, sending him to the locker room and sidelining Colorado’s leader for a portion of the first half. Wright’s absence seemed to ignite his teammates, as the Buffaloes locked up on defense and went on a 17-0 run in just over 7 minutes midway through the first half.

Wright’s efforts were outstanding coming back from the injury. The guard put up 24 points and sealed the game with a defensive stop. 

It was freshman forward Evan Mobley who kept the Trojans competitive in the first half when his teammates were missing shots. He went into the halftime break with 17 points, over half of USC’s total. He did all he could over the course of 39 minutes of play, finishing with 26 points, nine rebounds and five blocks.

“He’s been very aggressive offensively and he’s played very well,” Enfield said. “I asked him if he needed a break; he said he didn’t need one. He exerts so much energy on both sides of the ball. I’m very proud of Evan and his development, and we’re gonna need him to play at this level starting at the end of this week.”

USC’s second-half comeback was anchored by Mobley but also energized by other scorers such as junior guard Drew Peterson and Eaddy. They made some timely buckets down the stretch that kept USC in the game. Eaddy, who hadn’t made a bucket all game, reclaimed the Trojans’ offense late in the second half, scoring all 11 of his points in the last four minutes of the game. 

“I [want to] play with the flow,” Eaddy said. “I don’t wanna force anything or take away from how we play traditionally. If teams wanna deny me, I’ll just try to make the right play.” 

Heading into the NCAA tournament, the Trojans look to capitalize on their chances, especially now that just one loss would end their season. Selection Sunday on March 14 will determine what seed and region USC gets in the bracket. 

“We can compete with anybody,” Enfield said. “We’re 19-0 when three guys get double figures [in scoring]. So if we face a really good offensive team in the tournament, we need to score the ball ourselves, and we have to keep defending at the same level we’ve been doing all year.”