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What a ride this season was. I’ve had time to deal with all the different emotions a fan can have during these last few months, and have witnessed the CU men’s basketball team become relevant. Not only in the city of Boulder, but also on the national stage.
Did anyone really think there would be this much to celebrate a year after we lost two great players, 75 percent of our scoring, and were dealing with joining a new conference?
Yet, after all the highs and lows, and all the nasty swear words I might have said during some games, the Buffs made history, taking home the inaugural Pac-12 title, and making some noise in the NCAA Tournament.
Going into the season, there wasn’t much hype surrounding the team. An overtime win at Air Force and a 5-point win over Texas Southern University at the Coors Events Center didn’t help.
On Dec. 31, Pac-12 play began, and that’s when everything began to change. A 73-33 victory in Boulder against the University of Utah now seems like a statement to the rest of the conference. The Buffs were destined for bigger things this season than anyone had given them credit for.
From there, the Buffs rattled off two more home victories, including one over regular-season Pac-12 champion University of Washington. Yet there were still some questions. Like the football team in the fall, could this team win on the road?
The Buffs’ trip to the Bay Area put everything back into perspective. A hard fought loss to the University of California, Berkeley was hard to swallow, but the Buffs fell flat against Stanford University, leaving their ability to win on the road in question.
They finally grabbed a road victory late in January, beating a very, very weak University of Southern California team, but doubts lingered after another poor showing at the University of California, Los Angeles.
After the disappointment at UCLA, the Buffs put in what I believe might be their best regular season performance of the season. They took on the University of Oregon, and put in a performance every Buffalo fan should be proud of.
Yes, the game came down to Nate Tomlinson making one of two free throws after a questionable foul call, and yes I hid behind my lap top while sitting in the press row to avoid watching what I was sure would be disappointment. Instead, the Buffs snatched a victory where they shouldn’t have, and the hype began to build.
At this point the C-Unit was also starting to find its voice, giving me chills every time I heard the fight song sung by a sold out crowd.
Seniors like Tomlinson and Austin Dufault began their CU careers playing in an nearly empty Coors Events Center. The only time it was ever close to full was when Kansas came to town and brought their entourage.
Five years ago I was at some of those games, and let me say, the change is remarkable.
With the hype building and a powerful crowd behind them, the Buffs were set to get some revenge on Stanford and Cal, and push their way to the top of the Pac-12.
And then the Stanford debacle happened.
On our home floor, with two legends of the program sitting court side, the Buffs completely flopped. Losing by over 20 points, most of the crowd filed out well before the final buzzer.
The players and coaches knew how big a disappointment this loss was. Earlier in the week the Buffs had been so excited, but on that night, the shame in their faces as they walked into the press conference, hearing Stanford celebrate in the away locker room, was all too evident.
Despite the disappointing loss, the Buffs managed to get things turned around quickly, beating the Cal Bears in their final game of the season.
I’ll always remember Tomlinson, after hitting an early three, beating his chest with the passion of a man who had been through a lot with his team.
Two losses in Oregon really deflated things as the Buffs headed off to Los Angeles for the Pac-12 Tournament. As long as they beat Utah, a lot of fans probably would have been more than happy.
But most people in Boulder knows what happened next.
Four wins in four days, including another gutty performance against Oregon, and a Pac-12 championship against Arizona that was so intense, I couldn’t keep still for the last five minutes.
And now the Buffs have a banner they can finally hang proudly in the Coors Events Center, and no one can ever take that away from us.
There would be no pain of getting left out this year.
Traveling to the NCAA Tournament was just icing on the cake, and beating a No. 23 ranked University of Nevada, Las Vegas made it all the better.
The loss to Baylor was bittersweet, though. They were always the better team, and we kept it close for a while. What made me the proudest was that despite the game basically being lost, no one gave up. The Buffs went into the tournament to prove something, and they did just that.
I had to get up and walk out of the apartment to contain all the emotions I felt as the final buzzer sounded, sadness, frustration, but mostly pride.
This season has given me, and all the other Buffs fans, so much to be proud of. We watched a team that played with heart, and despite all its faults, played with a passion many other teams never had.
This season also showed Boulder, and the world, that there is a future in Colorado basketball. Impact players like Andre Roberson and Askia Booker will be returning, and we have a new, talented recruiting class.
Maybe CU is becoming a basketball school.
So thanks Buffs, it’s been a pleasure supporting you and covering you for the last five seasons, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Mark McNeillie at Mark.firstname.lastname@example.org.