- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Colorado’s NCAA hopes were starting to look dim.

The Buffaloes trailed by five to last-place Southern California, a team they couldn’t afford a loss to if they were going to have any chance of getting into the bracket.

Askia Booker came to the rescue, keeping Colorado’s hopes alive.

Playing with his usual feistiness, Booker scored 21 points and keyed a late run that helped push Colorado to a have-to-have-it, 59-56 win over pesky USC in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament on Wednesday.

“He made some big-time plays, he played with great composure,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said of Booker.

It was a good thing he did.

Despite beating USC twice during the regular season, Colorado (22-10) had a hard time shaking the Trojans, unable to get much separation until going on a 13-1 run late in the second half.

USC (11-21) still had a shot at the end, but Byron Wesley’s 3-pointer at the buzzer came up just short.

With a big sigh of relief, the Buffaloes move on the face California in Thursday’s quarterfinals.

Josh Scott had 13 points, Xavier Johnson 11 and Booker added seven rebounds and four assists for Colorado.

“Tournament basketball, everybody’s got new life, everybody’s got a fresh start on things, you throw the records out the window because you’re playing for your life,” Boyle said. “There’s a lot of good teams in college basketball and to win games in March is the most difficult thing to do.”

USC could have folded up after a difficult regular season.

Instead, the Trojans matched Colorado near shot for shot, fighting back when the Buffaloes tried to pull away, giving themselves a shot to tie it at the end.

They came up just short - an inch or two on Wesley’s shot - but it was a nice confidence-builder for the future.

Wesley finished with 23 points and Omar Oraby added 10 for the Trojans, who went 5 of 22 from 3-point range.

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