ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Quick thoughts on 11th-seeded Colorado's 68-64 victory over No. 6 seed UNLV:
Overview: Colorado carried the momentum of its four-game run to the Pac-12 tournament title into a convincing second-round NCAA win over UNLV at the Pit. This wasn’t close. Colorado looked like it was the champ of a major league from the opening tip against a team that ended up behind New Mexico and San Diego State in the Mountain West. The confidence with which the Buffaloes played, from making 3s to contesting shots to rebounding, was unmatched at times by the Runnin’ Rebels. This scrappy bunch of Buffs was playing with house money. Colorado coach Tad Boyle said Wednesday that the pressure was all off the Buffs. He was right. They played as loose as any of the eight teams in the field here at the Pit. But they are still the Buffaloes and couldn’t close. UNLV made quite a run to get it within one possession, but then Colorado showed poise, created turnovers and converted free throws.
Turning point: UNLV had cut the deficit to three, and the Runnin’ Rebels were on the verge of making it a one-point game. But a quick turn of events occurred when Andre Roberson blocked a shot and it led to a runout for Carlon Brown, who flushed home a jam. That gave the Buffs a 60-55 lead and a chance to breath. The Runnin’ Rebels would cut the lead to three one more time at 67-64 with 8 seconds left on a rainbow 3-pointer by Chace Stanback.
Key player: There were a lot of choices here, but a pair of back-to-back 3s by Austin Dufault early in the second half were decisive. They helped send a strong message that the Buffs weren’t going to back down. Dufault ended up with 14 points. He was an efficient 3-of-4 on 3s. But his bang-bang triples were crucial to creating some distance between the two teams after the break.
Key stat: Rebounding. The Runnin’ Rebels went into the game as the more aggressive rebounding team. It shouldn’t have been close. And it wasn’t. The Buffaloes dominated the backboard. Colorado outrebounded UNLV 43-30. UNLV couldn't get second shots on a consistent enough basis to take the lead.
Miscellaneous: Colorado gets major props for its fan contingent. The Buffs brought their A-game. I remember going to a few CU games in Boulder in the '90s, and it was never this loud. The enthusiasm for this team has certainly resonated. ... NCAA president Mark Emmert didn’t last the whole second game. I’m sure he was off to another site for Friday. ... Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was behind the Colorado bench and so was interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas. Neinas lives in Colorado, and the Buffs used to be in the Big 12/Big Eight. ... The Buffs had the karma going the moment they stepped on the Pit floor. Assistant coach Tom Abatemarco was an assistant on the 1983 NC State team that won the epic title game in this building.
What’s next: Colorado will play Baylor on Saturday in what would appear to be a mismatch. The Buffs don’t have the interior length to match the third-seeded Bears. But why would anyone doubt the Buffs' ability to make this a game and pull off the upset? This will easily be the toughest game for the Buffs since this run started.