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Higgins Leads Buffs Into First Ever Big 12 Semi-Final

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Cory Higgins of the Colorado Buffaloes drives with the ball against Rodney McGruder of the Kansas State Wildcats during their quarterfinal game in the 2011 Phillips 66 Big 12 Men's Basketball Tournament at Sprint Center on March 10, 2011 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Cory Higgins of the Colorado Buffaloes drives with the ball against Rodney McGruder of the Kansas State Wildcats during their quarterfinal game in the 2011 Phillips 66 Big 12 Men’s Basketball Tournament at Sprint Center on March 10, 2011 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — When Colorado waltzed in and beat nationally ranked Kansas State two months ago, ending a nine-game losing streak to the Wildcats, Cory Higgins sounded a warning.

“It’s a whole new Colorado,” the senior said.

Indeed, it is.

Higgins scored 28 points, Alec Burks added 24 and the Buffaloes made it three in a row over Kansas State on Thursday, ousting the No. 19 Wildcats 87-75 in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament.

Kansas State had dominated Colorado for years. But now, for the first time in a series that began in 1933, the Buffaloes have beaten the Wildcats three times in one season.

“We beat a great team three times,” Higgins said. “It can’t be a fluke all three times.”

Colorado (21-12) was the only team to beat the streaking Wildcats (22-10) in their final nine games. And the latest win was a big one for the Buffaloes as they try to secure an NCAA tournament bid in their final season as a member of the Big 12 before packing up for the Pac-10.

“People will see the results of this game and see the fact that K-State’s playing at a high level,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “Those guys are good and they’re playing very, very well right now. We beat a good team. We’re not backing into this thing. I try not to talk about things I don’t have control over. But this is our sixth top-50 RPI win of the season. I don’t know how many bubble teams have six.”

Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly had 18 points apiece for Kansas State, which rode a six-game winning streak into the tournament. Kelly also had 10 rebounds.

“They beat us three times, so they’re just better than we are, no ifs, ands or buts about it,” Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. “That’s been proven on the floor.”

Higgins had 19 points in the second half, picking up the slack while Burks struggled with three fouls and spent much of the time on the bench. The Buffaloes closed the game on a 14-3 run, sinking eight straight free throws during one stretch. They were 23 of 27 from the line.

“We feed off each other,” Higgins said of himself and Burks. “Throughout the year we talk to each other during the game. It’s hard for teams to shut down both of us. We just pick each other up.”

Andre Roberson had 11 points and 14 rebounds for Colorado.

Burks, shadowed by Pullen, picked up three quick fouls in the second half and went to the bench. But Higgins took control and scored 10 straight points, keeping Colorado close until its all-Big 12 guard got back in the game.

Kelly’s tip-in and Will Spradling’s 3-pointer sliced Colorado’s lead to 70-69 before Marcus Relphorde hit a 3-pointer from the baseline. After Spradling’s driving layup cut it to 73-72, Burks went to the line and hit both ends of a 1-and-1.

With 1:23 to go, Kansas State inbounded the ball and Spradling put up a 3-pointer that missed. Burks batted away Rodney McGruder’s follow attempt and Devon Peterson was called for a foul. Relphorde, with 59.9 seconds to go, made both foul shots for a 77-72 lead. Roberson made a foul shot and Higgins made two before Roberson’s layup gave the Buffs, a longtime Big 12 doormat, a comfortable lead.

“We made some bad decisions,” Pullen said. “It’s the same thing that plagued us when we weren’t doing well in the Big 12. We were undisciplined, we gave up some easy shots and we made some bad decisions on offense and it cost us the game. At this time of year, you can’t have those type of breakdowns or those type of lapses, or you’ll never be able to beat a good team.”

Earlier, with Burks on the bench, Higgins hit two free throws, Pullen canned a 3-pointer for a 55-50 lead, and then Higgins went inside for a contested bucket and followed that with a driving layup that cut the lead to 55-54.

After Peterson scored for Kansas State, Higgins answered with another basket.

Levi Knutson’s two foul shots and long 3-pointer put Colorado on top 61-57.

The Wildcats tied it 62-all on Pullen’s 3-pointer, then Higgins hit a fallaway jumper and followed that with a driving layup. Burks, with just his second bucket of the second half, tipped in a shot and Higgins made a floater in the lane, capping an 8-2 run for a 70-64 lead with 3:31 to play.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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