The USC Trojans look for a third straight victory when they visit the No. 18 Colorado Buffaloes for a Pac-12 contest on Thursday night. USC sits at 19-7 overall and 8-5 in the Pac-12, while Colorado is 20-6 and 9-4 in conference play, currently tied with Oregon atop the league standings. The Trojans sit a game behind, tied for fifth place.
These two teams have already met once before this season, with Colorado coming out on top 78-57 in Los Angeles on Feb. 1. The Buffaloes would certainly like a repeat of that performance, in which they shot 51.9 percent from the floor and outboarded the Pac-12’s top rebounding team, 33-27.
Colorado is a 9.5-point favorite in this one, with the over/under set at 136.5.
The Trojans have an imposing front line, led by 6-9 freshman forward Onyeka Okongwu, who leads the team in scoring and rebounding with 16.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per contest. Okongwu has been struggling of late, scoring 11 or fewer points in three of his last four outings, including just five points in the Trojans’ loss to Arizona State on Feb. 8 in which he suffered a concussion.
Okongwu has missed the Trojans’ last two games and is questionable for this one. In his absence, freshman forward Isaiah Mobley has stepped up, averaging 9.5 points and 9.0 rebounds over the two-game span, both USC victories.
Guard Jonah Matthews adds 12.8 points per game while forward Nick Rakocevic chips in with 11.2 points, and both players are averaging over a steal per game. In the first game, the Trojans trio of Okongwu, Matthews and Rakocevic shot just 10-of-31 from the field and combined for just 28 points.
USC is second in the Pac-12 in field-goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot just 38.6 percent from the field, as well as second in blocked shots with 5.19 per game.
Colorado has a number of offensive weapons it can turn to, led by the backcourt duo of McKinley Wright IV (13.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.2 assists) and Tyler Bey (13.5 points, 9.3 rebounds). Wright is all over the floor, scrapping for rebounds at just 6-0 and averaging 1.1 steals, while the 6-7 Bey can do it all as well, averaging 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocks to lead the Buffaloes in both categories.
Guard D’Shawn Schwartz is also a scorer, averaging 10.8 points per game, with 6-8, 262-pound forward Evan Battey providing some muscle in the paint (9.2 points, 6.2 rebounds). Colorado has risen to the top of the league standings thanks in part to its defense, which ranks second in the conference in scoring defense, allowing just 62.19 points per game.
The Buffaloes have won the last three meetings between these two teams, though USC has won two times in Boulder in the last three seasons.
Buffaloes Win Close One
Both teams need this win in a bad way. With just one game separating the top six teams in the conference, every game matters in the race for the title. While USC might not win this game — the Trojans are 4-4 in true road games this season — it should keep it close for much of the contest. Colorado gets the home win, but I’m taking USC +9.5 in this one.