March 12, 2014 by Jacob Freedman
By Jacob Freedman
For the second year in a row, USC’s season ended in the final seconds of the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament. Last year, the Trojans couldn’t get up a shot attempt against Utah. This year, a three-point attempt by Byron Wesley to send the game into overtime clanked off the back rim, sending the 12th-seeded Trojans to a 59-56 loss against the fifth-seeded Colorado Buffaloes. Despite winning just two Pac-12 games, the Trojans played one of their best defensive games of the season and had a 49-45 lead with 8:54 remaining before Colorado went on a 13-1 run requiring the Trojans to play a frantic game of catch-up until the end.
The Trojans took first blood, using two quick layups by Oraby to take a 4-0 lead. The Buffaloes answered with a 10-0 run, but rather than falling behind 20-2 like the two teams’ meeting in Boulder, the Trojans fought back with rigid defense. Wesley scored six straight points for USC, tying the score at 12. Colorado used a minor USC scoring drought to surge ahead 25-18, but USC closed the half on a 9-4 spurt, including a fall-away jumper from Wesley, to cut the deficit to 29-27.In the second half, USC was unable to seize the lead early thanks to deficient transition defense. Yet, defensive plays in the halfcourt prevented USC from allowing game-breaking mid-second half runs by their opponents, an all-too-familiar sight for the Trojans in Pac-12 play. Whether it was Omar Oraby grabbing five offensive rebounds, Strahinja Gavrilovic forcing errant passes, Julian Jacobs blocking a Josh Scott layup in transition or another contested Scott shot near the end, the Trojans were making the plays necessary to stay in the game. “We played well enough defensively to win the game,” Andy Enfield said after the loss. Before today, the fewest points USC had allowed in a Pac-12 game was 68.
The Trojans fought the Buffaloes back and forth for the first 12 minutes of the second half, before a 13-1 Colorado run brought their lead to a game-high 8 points at 58-50 with 3:07 to go. Meanwhile, the Trojans offense went ice cold down the stretch, going 5:54 without a field goal. “It would have been nice to make one or two or three or four or five or six or seven,” Enfield said on USC’s dismal three-point shooting (5-22). “We ran down the stretch. We ran some great action, shared the ball, and got some wide open looks, and they didn’t fall.”
From the 58-50 point, the Trojans got a pair of layups by Byron Wesley and Nikola Jovanovic to cut the deficit to 58-54. Colorado’s Josh Scott hit one of two free throws to push it to 59-54 before Wesley hit another layup. Up three, Colorado’s Xavier Talton missed a three, but on the long rebound, the ball was thrown off Julian Jacobs and given back to Colorado with under 11 seconds remaining. USC pressured Scott into a missed layup, giving the Trojans one final shot to send the game into overtime.Jacobs grabbed Scott’s rebound, but was pushed down as Pe’Shon Howard wound up with the ball with about five seconds left. “It was an instant flash of the Dayton game [where Howard hit a buzzer-beater to give the Trojans a 79-76 road victory], but they [Colorado] did a good job of picking me up at halfcourt.” From there, Howard passed to Wesley, who was at the three-point line towards the right sideline. Wesley missed. “Byron made every play we needed the entire game, so I figured why not let him finish it off?” Howard said. “He got a running start and I thought he got a good look, but Xavier Johnson did a great job closing out and affecting the play. It was a deep shot, and I thought it was good when it got out of his hand.”