Earlier this week, we asked if the CU Buffs and the CSU Rams could get past their first matchups in the annual NCAA men's basketball tournament. In the case of the Buffs, the answer was a sometimes resounding, sometimes nerve-racking but ultimately thrilling "yes" via a 68-64 victory over highly touted UNLV. And the Buffs may not be done. Their next matchup is versus the Baylor Bears, who looked far from unbeatable in advancing.
In our preview, we noted that the Murray State Racers, the Rams' tourney pairing, had the best record of any team in the field of 64, but there were questions about how much those wins meant due to the level of competition the outfit faced. And early on, Murray State seemed vulnerable, with the Rams matching them blow for blow. But in the second half, the Racers took over the game, which wound up feeling less close than the 58-41 final score indicated.
Still, the Rams should be overjoyed with the season and excited about the future -- one that will include junior Pierce Hornung, whose twelve points in a losing effort were more than supplemented by a career-high seventeen boards. This is a program on the rise, and yesterday's loss won't slow it in the slightest.
The same can be said for the Buffs, who did their damnedest to run the Runnin' Rebels out of the gym in the first half, with Carlon Brown looking like a one-man wrecking crew. Meanwhile, pesky defense harassed the Rebs into the sort of shooting that recalled Dick Cheney blasting a pal by accident -- a performance enhanced by rebounding courtesy of Andre Roberson and company that helped CU capitalize again and again.
This dynamic remained in place well into the second half, with the Buffs eventually building a twenty point advantage. But then the Rebs began pressing -- a thoroughly predictable move that nonetheless seemed to catch CU off-guard. Suddenly, the squad was having trouble even getting the ball in bounds, and on those occasions when they succeeded, they couldn't do anything with it. At one point, three consecutive possessions ended in hair-tearing turnovers, and UNLV cashed in, eventually cutting the Buffs lead to a single bucket.
But just as in the Pac 12 championship game, when CU let Arizona back into the game only to eventually close the door, the Buffs found just enough points (many of them from freshman Spencer Dinwiddie, who hit five of seven free throws late) to keep the Vegas crew at bay. Suddenly, a squad that Seth Davis had touted as a possible Elite Eight team during CBS' Selection Sunday broadcast was facing a long flight home.
Meanwhile, Baylor looked spotty during its 68-60 win over South Dakota State. At one point, the Bears were down by a dozen, due in part to the failure of leading scorer Perry Jones III to show up; he registered just two points. But Baylor proved far deeper than the Jackrabbits, and eventually bench strength, epitomized by Anthony Jones's unexpected offensive contributions, wound up overcoming scrappiness.
Presumably, this narrow escape will serve as a wake-up call for Baylor. Yet CU, which earned its first tournament victory since the Chauncey Billups era, is clearly ready to make up for last season's March Madness snub. Do they have a chance to make it two in a row on the biggest stage in college basketball? Hell yes they do.
Look below to see highlights from last night's game.
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More from our Sports archive circa March 2011: "CU snubbed: Buffs are Scarlett Johansson to UAB's Roseanne, says Dick Vitale (VIDEO)."