Buffs get chance at big upset but can’t cash, CU dashed from dance

Mar 24, 2024, 1:46 PM | Updated: 1:54 pm

KJ Simpson...

Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS—Tad Boyle often says ‘all you can ask for is an opportunity,’ and that’s what the Colorado Buffaloes got by even being selected into the First Four of the NCAA Tournament. Two wins and a week later Boyle’s crew ran into the eighth-ranked team in the country with a chance to shock the world while making school history.

The Buffs had the opportunity in the Round of 32 against the Marquette Golden Eagles and oh boy did they have their chances to make the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1969.

Not one, but two wide-open threes clanked off late—not one, but two balls were turned over to the other team during the final push—and not one, but two missed free throws haunted the Buffs down the stretch. All of what could’ve been ended in what was, an 81-77 CU loss to No. 2 seeded Marquette.

“You can be proud of your guys and still—this was a great opportunity that we let slip away because we gave ourselves chances. Again, I told our team in the locker room after the game, we had chances to win that game. Had good looks, good wide-open looks, just didn’t make them. Sometimes that happens. Sometimes basketball becomes a make-miss game,” Boyle explained after the game. “Our guys competed, and the way they came out in the second half, you saw it, we’ve done that before and won. We were down to a really good Marquette team tonight, came back and took the lead twice, but we couldn’t ever string together enough stops to really—when we took the lead—to expand on it.”

Colorado fell behind quickly thanks to Marquette making its first 10 shots from inside the arc while getting four threes from Kam Jones in the first half. That 11-point halftime lead was gone in moments as the Buffaloes started the second half on a 10-2 run over less than two minutes of action. Colorado kept it up, taking a lead at 55-54 less than four minutes later. The lead changed twice in the game and the score got tied up three times total but all six chances Colorado had to regain the lead fell by the wayside.

“We had looks, we had looks,” Boyle said. “That’s all you can ask for as a coach and as a player. I’m proud of these guys. Their competitive spirit and effort is second to none.”

It took winning ten of their last 11 wins to even get grooving in The Dance, squeezing into the tournament, sneaking past Florida and cramming back on Sunday against Marquette. As the last five words of the CU battle cry say, they ‘fight.’

“They competed their tails off, not just here in Indianapolis but in Dayton the other night, in the Pac-12 tournament, since basically the middle of February,” Boyle said. “Great year, 26 wins. Something to be proud of.”

These Buffaloes did set the school’s single-season wins record and doubled the amount of Tournament wins the coach had in his entire 14-year tenure. And yet they were possibly the most talented team of the era, a rollercoaster ride of a team with a top prospect, two program icons and a steady set of role players. They probably should’ve gotten at least this far all along.

The program set this season up to chase a Pac-12 Championship and they nearly scored that in the final conference tournament before bowing out to Oregon late. And it was said this could finally be Boyle’s year of winning two tournament games, something that did happen but was intended to mean a trip to the Sweet 16.

The Buffaloes are still roaming for that peak, through ups and downs over the years, they still seek a deep run in the dance. Boyle undoubtedly revived an all-but-dead program, pushed it into a Golden Era and has every Buffs fan expecting more. What that will look like as Colorado wanders back to the Big 12, with likely an entirely new team, is anyone’s guess.

Looking into the future is too challenging at the moment when for the past few years everyone circled this season as THE YEAR. KJ Simpson, Tristan da Silva and Cody Williams are probably walking out that door in the coming weeks. And each of the three had a look or a chance for Colorado to get a lead back late on Sunday. What else can you ask for but a chance in the dance, and the ball being in the hands of your best players?

So focus on rebuilding and the future if you will—but the black and gold will be struggling to sleep about the few bounces of a basketball they were away from the dream of the Sweet 16.


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