It Was A Nail-Biter, But CU Makes The Big Dance
NIWOT, Colo. (AP) – Tad Boyle casually leaned back in his comfortable recliner, taking sips of soda as the NCAA pairings were unveiled on the television screen.
The Colorado coach hardly looked the least bit tense.
Turns out, he’s simply good at masking his emotions.
“I was sweating,” Boyle said.
Not for long, though. The Colorado players assembled in his living room erupted in cheers when the Buffs were announced as the No. 10 seed in the NCAA tournament on Sunday.
That’s quite a change from two years ago, when Boyle hosted a watch party, only to have his team left out.
That somber feeling had the Buffs squirming in their seats until the selection show disclosed their matchup. Colorado will face seventh-seeded Illinois in Austin, Texas, on Friday.
At 21-11 and with four wins over Top-25 teams, it was hard to leave Colorado out.
But the team had been in this position before, just to feel the sting of disappointment.
Colorado junior forward Andre Roberson almost didn’t show up at the gathering since Boyle’s place was like a house of horrors to him.
Two years ago, Roberson thought the team was definitely in the field.
“But I was young and new at this, didn’t know the ropes,” said Roberson, who just recently returned to the court after missing time with a viral illness.
This time, he felt cautiously confident.
“We had a lot more success this season, so I thought for sure we were in,” he said.
But as the selection process dragged on, Roberson’s stomach began to sink.
Conference rival Oregon as a No. 12 seed? That couldn’t be good for the Buffs, Roberson thought. UCLA as a No. 6 seed? Again, not good.
“I had flashbacks to two years ago,” Roberson said. “I was really nervous.”
Angst soon turned into elation, though, with Roberson instantly jumping out of his seat to hug Boyle when his team made the field.
“What a great feeling,” said Roberson, who’s from nearby San Antonio and expects a throng of friends and family to make the trip to Austin to watch him play. “I’m glad we weren’t left out.”
The Buffs will return to the court Monday to prepare for Illinois, a team they don’t know much about just yet.
The Illini are 22-12 in coach John Groce’s first season. Illinois features explosive guard Brandon Paul, who averages nearly 17 points a game.
“Heck of a player,” Boyle said.
The admiration was mutual.
“They play teams like UCLA day in, day out,” Paul said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
The two teams have met just four times with the Illini holding a 3-1 advantage. The last time they met on the court was Jan. 31, 1987, in Champaign, Ill., with Illinois winning, 69-65.
The winner will face No. 2 seed Miami (27-6) or No. 15 seed Pacific (22-12).
“Quite frankly, I was hoping for a 10 or an 11 seed more than an eight or a nine, because there you’re faced with a No. 1 seed,” said Boyle, whose team automatically earned a spot into the NCAA field last season after winning the Pac-12 Conference Tournament. “I thought certainly if you have a 10 or an 11 seed, your first-round opponent is a little bit better. Your second opponent is still going to be good, obviously Miami is the No. 2 seed and they won the ACC and the ACC tournament, but you never know what’s going to happen.”
In early November, Boyle hardly believed this was a team that could make the NCAA tournament. Given their youth, he figured they were likely a 15-win squad, maybe 17.
They beat Dayton, a then-ranked Baylor squad and Murray State to win the Charleston Classic to start the season. The Buffs later knocked off Top 25 teams such as Oregon, on the road and at home, and Arizona.
“What happens is you win early, beat some good teams, you start getting greedy. You want a little bit more and a little bit more,” said Boyle, who’s the first CU coach to take his team to the tournament in back-to-back seasons since Sox Walseth nearly 50 years ago. “Once that happens, my expectations, our fans’ expectations, everyone’s expectations go up.
“I think this is a great step forward for our program.”
Maybe even putting the program back on the basketball map?
“That’s one thing coach Boyle wanted to do, get this program known nationally and get this respect,” Roberson said. “We’re gaining a lot of respect.”
- By Pat Graham, AP Sports Writer
AP Writer David Mercer in Champaign, Ill., contributed.
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