LAS VEGAS (AP) – Colorado lost top scorer McKinley Wright IV early in the game and scored a late lead to give Southern California a chance.
Wright showed his toughness by returning and the Buffaloes showed their strength by taking a last-minute victory.
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Another win and they’ll become Pac-12 champions for the first time in nine years.
D’Shawn Schwartz scored a hit in a rebound slam 3.3 seconds from time, Wright shook an elbow off his head and scored 24 points. Colorado No. 23 held on Friday night in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals against No. 24 Southern California 72-70.
“The great thing about our team is that we don’t panic,” said Colorado coach Tad Boyle. “This team only has a certain degree of resilience, a fight that is fun to be part of.”
Evan Mobley held USC (22-7) in the first half and dominated on both ends with 29 points, nine rebounds and five blocked shots.
The 7-foot rookie also helped the Trojans in the rally after being 10 points down by 4 1/2 minutes. He hit a 3-pointer, then Tahj hit Eaddy on a 3-point game by 35 seconds to tie the game.
On Colorado’s last possession, Wright had a 3-pointer edge and Schwartz snuck along the baseline to knock the ball down. Wright sealed it with a theft and deflected a pass intended for Eaddy to prevent the Trojans from firing one final shot.
“McKinley Wright was pressing (Eaddy) right in the back and they didn’t name it,” said USC coach Andy Enfield. “And that was the game.”
The third seed Buffaloes (22-7) shot 12 of 24 out of 3-point range to reach the Pac-12 title game for the first time since winning in 2012. Colorado continues to play against Oregon State with the number 5 Saturday.
“Another one, that’s what we keep yelling in the locker room,” said Wright, walking 4 on 6 from 3-point range. “It won’t be easy, but we know we have the parts for it.”
The only ranking teams in brackets had their hands full to make it to the semi-finals.
It took USC two hours of overtime to survive number 7 in Utah for a 91-85 quarterfinal win. Colorado had to overcome a miserable first half, with the eleventh seeded California holding back late for a 61-58 win.
The Buffaloes got off to a much better start against USC with an 11-0 run 14-6 but seemed to take a big loss when Wright was bowed in the head by USC after an entanglement with Chevez Goodwin. The unanimous All-Pac-12 security guard of the first team lay on the floor for a few minutes and had to be taken to the locker room.
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Colorado didn’t seem to miss a beat and continued to run to extend its lead to 20-6 and Wright came back a few minutes.
Mobley, who started slowly against Utah, had 17 points on 8-of-12 to help USC draw within 39-30 at halftime. The rest of the Trojans were a combined 5 out of 17.
“Colorado tried to get inside us early, deny all our catches and make things difficult for us,” said Eaddy, who had 11 points, five rebounds and five assists. “As the game progressed, we settled in a little and got into a groove.”
USC fell into a big hole, managed to rally, but missed a critical block that cost the game.
Wright has proven he’s one of the toughest players in college basketball, and Colorado has shown a bit of grit by holding back the athletic Trojans.
One of the reasons Colorado didn’t fall when Wright went down was because of Keeshawn Barthelemy’s game.
The freshman point guard had seen limited action during the latter part of the regular season playing behind Wright, but gave the Buffaloes a spark while their leader was in the locker room. He hit a pair of 3-pointers and finished 3-of-4 with eight points in eight minutes.
“I’m so proud of Keeshawn and so excited about his future,” Wright said. “It’s hard for him to be a newbie and stand behind me and not play many minutes in every game. And he stayed strong all season. “
Colorado will play in the title game against Oregon State on Saturday.
USC should be a suspension to make the NCAA tournament.
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