Times-Call (Longmont)

CU hopes its final push begins

- By Pat Rooney prooney@ prairiemou­ntainmedia.com

The problems that have kept the Colorado men’s basketball team hovering around .500 for much of the season probably can’t be fully encapsulat­ed by looking back at any one game.

Yet a review of Buffaloes’ loss at USC on Jan. 12 might come close.

Still seeking an elusive hot streak that might change the tone of the final weeks of the season, the Buffs host USC on Thursday night to start a season-closing three-game homestand. There are bigger stakes at play for the Trojans, who are attempting to cement their NCAA Tournament credential­s while securing a place in the top four of the Pac-12 Conference. But the Buffs hope to begin a run that will make the final weeks more interestin­g as well.

“That was the epitome of empty possession­s,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said of his team’s loss at USC last month. “I’ve been watching the film. I have no idea how the game was even close in L.A. USC, they’ve got a lot on the line. And for us, I think this team can get hot down the stretch and make some noise. So this game may not mean a lot in the standings from our standpoint, but it does for theirs. We’re fighting for pride and to get hot and see what can happen down the stretch.”

CU suffered a 68-61 loss at USC, and contrary to Boyle’s point, the reason the Buffs were in the game was due to defense. USC got off to a 7-for-10 start but shot just .373 (19-for-51) the rest of the way. CU also dominated the glass, posting a 44-29 rebounding advantage, but an all-too familiar script that unfolded offensivel­y prevented the Buffs from picking up a road win.

The Buffs finished the game with what at the time was a season-high 22 turnovers, leading to a 13-point advantage for the Trojans (20-7) in points off turnovers in a contest that was decided by seven points. (CU set a new season-high in turnovers 48 hours later with 23 at UCLA). CU also

suffered nine blocked shots, with four of them recorded by USC forward Joshua Morgan.

Morgan is the Pac-12 leader in blocked shots overall (2.3 per game) and

in conference games (2.1).

“We have to make it happen,” Boyle said. “Nothing is going to be given to you at this time of year. Really, at no time of the year. You’ve got to be ready to seize the opportunit­y when it’s there, and what’s better than three home games to finish the year? You’d better take advantage of when

the schedule does favor you. Three home games, what more can you ask for?”

The Buffs still have an opportunit­y to play their way into a favorable firstround seeding at the Pac12 tournament, or even an NIT berth. However, it will require the sort of consistent run that CU, despite a number of impressive

early-season wins that includes toppling then-no. 11 Tennessee in Nashville, simply has been unable to attain.

CU has won more than two games in a row just once this season, putting together a five-game winning streak in December compiled mostly against mid-major foes at home. CU

has won nine of its past 10 home games, but setbacks in Boulder in very winnable games against Arizona State and Washington provides skepticism that home cooking will allow the Buffs to finish strong.

“That’s something we’ve talked about — we’re capable of beating any team in our league,” CU wing

Nique Clifford said. “We’ve got to go out and do it. And we haven’t proven that all year, but we know that we are capable when we are at our best, defending and rebounding at a high level. And when shots are falling, that certainly helps. But we’ve got to keep focusing on defense and rebounding.”

 ?? ASHLEY LANDIS — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Colorado guard KJ Simpson, left, will be one of several Buffs players aiming to slow USC’S Drew Peterson when the teams collide at the CU Events Center.
ASHLEY LANDIS — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Colorado guard KJ Simpson, left, will be one of several Buffs players aiming to slow USC’S Drew Peterson when the teams collide at the CU Events Center.

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