On Saturday night, the CU Buffs played pretty much the same game as in their previous two wins: a very good first thirty minutes, an iffy last ten. But because they didn't have a big lead this time, they fell to the Baylor Bears 80-63 in the NCAA men's basketball tourney. The loss denied them a trip to the Sweet Sixteen, but they've got a helluva good chance to get that far (and maybe even further) next season.
The Buffs' inability to overwhelm the Bears early has two explanations -- Baylor's aptitude at corralling offensive rebounds following clanks and an unassuming-looking fellow named Brady Heslip, who scored 27 points on three balls. And both of these deficits must be left at CU's door. With the exception of Andre Roberson (more about him later), the Buffs didn't box out effectively enough, allowing the Bears to make up for early poor marksmanship with loads o' second-chance points. And given that Heslip had been hot from three-point range in Baylor's previous contest, against South Dakota State, his gifts from beyond the arc should have made him a CU priority from the opening tip. Instead, the team seemed blindsided by his skill at draining anything and everything from long distance. The players did a better job of containing him in the second half, but by then, it was too late.
Still, the Buffs needn't feel downcast. The squad excelled during its inaugural year in the Pac 12, especially considering that it had just lost two of its main point producers from the previous season, Alec Burks (who schooled Kobe and the Lakers in a Utah Jazz win last night) and Cory Higgins. And while this year's main point producer, senior Carlon Brown, will be moving on, Andre Roberson appears to be staying put, and thank goodness. March Madness proved to be his coming-out party: He boarded with far more effectiveness than his six-foot-seven frame would imply and displayed a soft shooting touch that was a revelation for anyone who hadn't been paying attention prior to the post-season. He'll be the backbone of the 2012-2013 lineup, and he should only improve as the campaign rolls forward.
And who'll shoulder the scoring load? That's to be determined, but a pair of freshmen, Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker, are likely candidates. They both played well beyond their years in the Pac 12 tourney and the Big Dance -- so much so that fans looking at their potential are undoubtedly thinking, "I'd tap that."
Of course, the Pac 12 is unlikely to be as far down next year as it was this season; Cal, the only other team to win a March Madness invite, couldn't even get past the play-in game. But if coach Tad Boyle continues to maximize his resources the way he has thus far in his CU career, it may not matter. Can't wait 'til next year.
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More from our Sports archive: "Video: CU Buffs upset UNLV, set their sights on Baylor Bears."