As it looked to get back into rhythm after a lengthy COVID-related pause of team activities, it was USC’s smothering defense that was still trying to work back into form. A 13-0 start to the season was built on one of the Pac-12’s best—if not the best—defense. As USC lost two of three last week, it was that end of the floor that was the culprit.

So, going to Colorado and facing a team it hadn’t beaten in any of its last seven tries, USC needed a get-back game.

The Trojans got exactly that, and it was once again the defense powering Southern Cal to the win. Colorado made two baskets in the final eight minutes of the game—one with 6:41 to play and the other an inconsequential bucket at the buzzer—and USC walked away with a 61-58 win.

USC forward Chevez Goodwin had a career-high 18 boards to go with 14 points and three blocked shots. Forward Isaiah Mobley added 13 points, six boards, three assists, and two blocks of his own. Boogie Ellis and Max Agbonkpolo each pitched in 11 points for the Trojans.

Colorado was led by forward Jabari Walker’s 13 points, but no one shot well for the Buffs, and that’s the good news for USC.

Four straight opponents had shot north of 40% on the Trojan defense coming into the game, coinciding with USC’s return to the court on Jan. 6. Prior to that run, none of USC’s first 12 opponents had hit 40% of their shots. Though Colorado made seven of its 15 triples, the Buffs shot 31% from the field overall and got only nine of their 36 shots inside the arc to drop.

Colorado had separate first-half droughts of six minutes and four minutes where it failed to hit a shot from the field. The Buffs also went more than four minutes early in the second half without making a shot from the field. And then it closed out the final eight minutes by missing nine of its 11 shots, including eight straight at one point.

The free throw line—CU was 19-for-25 there—was the saving grace, but USC dominated the interior.

The Trojans owned the boards, 47-32. They got 18 offensive rebounds that led to 15 second-chance points. They outscored Colorado 38-12 in the paint. They forced 16 Buffs turnovers.

But USC shot only 37% itself. Colorado did well to frustrate the Trojan offense as well. The game was tied at the halftime break, and then with less than three minutes to go in the game, still knotted at 53-all.

Colorado missed free throws on two separate trips that would have either tied the game or given the Buffs the lead over the final three minutes. It had a dunk attempt blocked as well. CU’s final two possessions ended with a wild prayer of a shot from the painted area and a turnover.

USC was able to hit 7-of-11 from the charity stripe in the second half and that proved to be enough.

“We needed this,” Mobley said after the game.

The 16th-ranked Trojans moved to 15-2 on the year with the win, 5-2 now in conference play. They’ll face Utah on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. PT.

Colorado (12-5, 4-3 Pac-12) will face No. 9 UCLA on Saturday, its third ranked foe in the last four games. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. PT.