Sunday, March 11, 2012 | 10:30 p.m.
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Las Vegas Sun reporters Taylor Bern and Ray Brewer take a look at the UNLV basketball team's opening round opponent in the NCAA Tournament — Pac-12 tournament champions Colorado.
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In the last 43 years, Colorado has won exactly one NCAA Tournament game.
Don’t expect the program’s lack of experience and success in March Madness, however, to deter the No. 11 seed Buffaloes (23-11) in Thursday night’s game against the Rebels (26-8) in Albuquerque, N.M.
This year’s Colorado team has already proven history irrelevant. Colorado surged to the NCAA Tournament by winning its first conference tournament championship in school history last week.
The Buffaloes cut down the nets at the Staples Center in Los Angeles in the Pac-12 tournament by winning four games in four days.
“I like where our team is right now mentally,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said, according to the school’s official website. “I just think teams that win their postseason tournament…you’d much rather come off of that than a disappointing loss.”
Pac-12 coaches are left wondering who had the bright idea to invite these guys. This season was Colorado’s first in the conference after 15 years in the Big 12. Talk about perfect timing.
The Buffaloes took advantage of the weakest major conference in recent memory to reach the tournament. Picked 11th in the conference at the beginning of the season, Colorado is one of only two Pac-12 teams to reach the promised land.
The other, California, was one of the last four teams included in the field and faces a play-in game against South Florida Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio.
“I’m more proud to be Pac-12 tournament champions than I am going to the NCAA Tournament,” Boyle said. “It's diminished a little bit in my eyes the subjectivity of teams getting in or not getting in.”
Boyle is still fuming over the selection committee leaving Colorado out of the tournament a year ago. The Buffaloes were one of the final teams omitted from the field of 68.
He’ll remind his team of the snub while preparing for UNLV. He wants them to play hungry; not that the Buffaloes have found any problem doing that lately. Colorado killed a shot at the Pac-12 title and potential NCAA Tournament at-large bid by losing three of its final four regular season games.
The Buffaloes' three senior starters held a players-only meeting before traveling to Los Angeles. It was the start of the turnaround.
“We kind of rechecked each other and knew we were going to make something happen,” senior guard Nate Tomlinson said. “When we got to L.A., I think we realized how good we can be. You find out a lot about yourselves when you go out and win four games in four days."
As a team, Colorado is built eerily similar to UNLV. Boyle likes to have three guards on the floor at all times.
Tomlinson plays the point. Senior Carlon Brown, the Pac-12 tournament’s Most Valuable Player, is the Buffaloes' leading scorer and de facto swingman. Freshman Spencer Dinwiddie, a high school teammate of UNLV’s Justin Hawkins, uses his athleticism to do a little bit of everything for Colorado.
But the Buffaloes best player is likely its 6-foot-7 sophomore power forward. Sound familiar? Andre Roberson is the player who will match up and battle with Mike Moser in the opening tournament game.
Both teams are also solid on the defensive end.
“We both like to get up and down the floor and run and make the best of our transition games,” Brown said. “It should be a fun one to watch.”
Colorado and UNLV played six common opponents this season. The results were comparable.
UNLV and Colorado both lost to Wichita State. They both hold victories over Cal State Bakersfield and Southern California. UNLV split with Colorado State, while Colorado lost to the Rams by one. Colorado took two of three from California and UNLV decimated the Golden Bears in one meeting.
The Rebels have put together the superior year, but the Buffaloes have ended their season more memorably.
“They didn’t invite us to this party,” Boyle said. “We’re crashing it.”