LONGMONT, Colo. (AP) – The NCAA selection show couldn’t spoil Tad Boyle’s party this time.
A year ago, the Colorado coach hosted a gathering at his house to celebrate what he thought would be a spot in the tournament. Only, the festivities quickly turned sullen when the Buffs were snubbed by the committee and weren’t awarded an at-large bid.
With a spot already guaranteed, there was no chance of that happening Sunday as a more relaxed flock of supporters showed up once again at his place to see who the team was playing, not if they were playing.
Colorado (23-11) stormed through the Pac-12 tournament over the weekend, winning four games in four days, to automatically earn the school’s first NCAA tournament bid since 2003. The 11th-seeded Buffs will play sixth-seeded UNLV on Thursday in Albuquerque, N.M.
“I didn’t give one ounce of thought or energy to where we’d be seeded or where we’d go,” Boyle said as he took a brief timeout from the jubilee. “We’ve been through so much these last four days, so it was like, `Hey, bring it on.'”
Up the road in Fort Collins, Colorado State was in the same boat as the Buffaloes of a year ago, the Rams believing they had done enough to earn a spot in the tournament and hoping the committee shared that sentiment with an at-large berth.
A demanding nonconference schedule and impressive wins over San Diego State, UNLV and New Mexico helped the Rams (20-11) make it into the field for the first time since 2003. No. 11 CSU plays sixth-seeded Murray State (30-1) on Thursday in Louisville, Ky.
“I’m just thrilled for our players,” said CSU coach Tim Miles, who has steadily improved the program since he took over before the 2007-08 season. “This has been a long time coming. We spilled a lot of blood here from 2007 on. To have this group put it all together and come through in the clutch like they have is really a cool day for CSU Rams basketball.”
The exclusion from the tournament a year ago still bothers Boyle.
Last March, he was certain the Buffs had done enough to earn a spot. And when they were left out, he vowed never to host another gathering at his house. Especially since what should’ve been a feel-good moment dissolved into hurt feelings – captured on camera for the nation to see, no less.
“When you go through what we went through last year, it becomes personal,” said Boyle, whose team used the snub as motivation and advanced all the way to the semifinals of the NIT. “I’m more angry now, today, about our team last year not getting in than I was last year. We were a darn good team. We deserved to be in there (last year), no question in my mind.”
PHOTO GALLERY: CU Rolls Through Pac-12 Tournament
This time around, the Buffs had no worries. An automatic spot tends to calm the nerves.
That’s why Boyle acquiesced and planned another get-together, eager to clear his house of the haunting memories of being spurned.
“We had to flush the karma out of this room,” Boyle said, laughing.
Senior point guard Nate Tomlinson sat front and center in his coach’s living room, wearing around his neck the net the Buffs cut down the night before. It was a nice reminder of the work the Buffs turned in to earn their place in the field.
Also-rans for years in the Big 12, the Buffs spent their first season in the expanded Pac-12 and became the tournament champions.
Picked to finish ahead of only Utah in the league at the start of the year, the Buffs began slow as they tried to replace roughly 75 percent of their scoring. But they got on a roll once conference play got under way, winning three straight.
Toward the end of the season, Colorado faltered again, dropping three of four heading into the league tournament, making the run to the championship in Los Angeles even more improbable.
“We found our heart in L.A.,” Boyle said. “I don’t think we’re going to lose it.”
Tomlinson couldn’t agree more.
“Winning four games in four days is pretty good, no matter who you’re playing,” Tomlinson said. “It was a good effort by our boys.”
The Buffs face the Rebels (26-8), a team that resembles them in the way both like to push the pace up the floor. The winner will draw either No. 3 Baylor (27-7) or No. 14 South Dakota State (27-7).
“Again, we’re the underdog,” Boyle said. “We go there and play and let it all hang out. We have nothing to lose.”
This could be a partisan crowd for the Buffs, too, since Albuquerque is just a 475-mile trek from Boulder.
“I’ve made that drive. It’s not too bad,” Boyle said. “Hopefully, we can get a good group down there.”
As for whether this NCAA tournament appearance helps bolster the perception of CU hoops – especially after last year’s snub – Boyle said only time will tell.
“They didn’t invite us to this party. We’re crashing it,” he said. “We won’t know the answer to that until future years, when maybe we have a good team again and we lose in the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament and we (get in).
“I’m not sure if we’ve climbed on anybody’s radar, saying, `Oh, Colorado basketball is for real.’ We’ve got to go prove that.”
By PAT GRAHAM, AP Sports Writer
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