The Colorado men’s basketball team is breaking all the rules. The Buffaloes weren’t supposed to succeed in the Pac-12. They definitely weren’t supposed to win the conference championship. And every sports analyst basically had them not even showing up in the NCAA Tournament.
So much for those ideas. The 11th-seeded Buffaloes defeated the sixth-seeded University of Nevada Las Vegas Runnin’ Rebels 68-64 in Thursday’s second-round game at The Pit in Albuquerque.
CU led by as much as 20 points with 15:05 remaining in the game. However, 23 Buff turnovers, six of which came during the 14-1 UNLV run, almost cost them the game.
“If you had told me we’d turn it over 23 times and miss 10 free throws and beat a team as good as UNLV, I would have said you’re crazy,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said in the post-game press conference.
Boyle said despite leading 36-25 at the break, the Buffs anticipated the Rebels would go on a second-half run. Although the Buffs let the Rebels get within two points with 4:19 remaining and within three with only eight seconds remaining, Boyle said the team found a way to handle the game and claim the win.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the way these guys played and represented our university tonight,” Boyle said.
A big part of keeping the scoreboard in the Buffs’ favor was defense and rebounding. The Buffs held the Rebels to 32.4 percent shooting from the field and 25 percent from beyond the arc. CU also out-rebounded UNLV 46-33.
CU also made sure the Rebel’s two star forwards were non-factors in the game. Chace Stanback and Mike Moser combined for just 18 points and 13 rebounds. CU’s Andre Roberson picked up 12 points and 16 rebounds by himself.
Roberson said a dunk at the 2:30 mark by senior guard Carlon Brown (who had 12 points and six rebounds of his own) and fan support really spurred the Buffs’ energy in the final stretch.
“They came all the way from Colorado to support us, so it always feels great that we know they have our backs,” Roberson said.
Freshman Askia Booker, who led all scorers with 16 points, is also appreciative of all the support Colorado has given him, especially in the process of his recruitment.
“I thank Tad and the rest of CU for taking me in and taking me under their wing, especially these guys as teammates,” Booker said. “They’ve supported me very well, and I thank them a lot for that. I’ve come a long way … I’m happy I made it to the NCAA Tournament with these guys. I wouldn’t rather be here with anybody else.”
Brown joked that Booker’s humbleness was a cover for his confidence in the locker room.
“He just told you a nice lie,” Brown said, “because earlier when we were in the room he said, ‘Man, as long as Colorado got me, we’re going to win.’ So he’s very confident in himself. We’re glad he’s confident.”
The Buffs hope to take that confidence into their next NCAA game. The Buffs have won five straight post-season games and made it further in the tournament than the school had in over 10 years. Colorado’s last NCAA Tournament win was in the opening round in 1997.
Colorado now takes on former Big 12 foe Baylor on Saturday. Roberson said the Bears are great at many aspects of the game, but if the Buffs play with the same intensity and confidence they’ve been showing, they can take down the No. 3 seed.
“We believe in ourselves,” Roberson said. “We believe in everything coach Boyle tells us … I just feel like we’ll take on the challenge.”
Contact CU Independent Sports Editor Marlee Horn at Marlee.firstname.lastname@example.org.