ALBUQUERQUE, NM - MARCH 17: Quincy Acy #4 of the Baylor Bears shoots against Austin Dufault #33 of the Colorado Buffaloes in the first half during the third round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at The Pit on March 17, 2012 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
All the cards were down, and the Colorado Buffaloes looked like they were once again going to pull it off against the Baylor Bears. They had fought off multiple offensive surges and a three point barrage from Brady Heslip, and had yet somehow retaken the lead going into the final ten minutes. It looked like Colorado might have the horses to pull off yet another upset.
Only this time, Baylor was ready with the counterpunch, and down went the Buffs.
Colorado has gotten away with packing the paint and forcing their opponents to try and make threes to succeed. Through the Pac-12 Tournament and their first game against UNLV the strategy worked, as the opposition fired away and missed the mark way more than they needed to. Baylor would have no such problems--Heslip nailed an incredible nine threes to totally kaput that strategy, as the Bears enjoyed a +18 advantage from behind the arc (which was pretty much the difference in the game). Instead of relying on spot-ups and isolation jumpers, Heslip ran around screens for much of the game and hit mainly catch-and-shoot jumpers that went within the flow of the Baylor offense, and Colorado couldn't stop the offense from flowing in this one.
The other huge stat: Baylor hauling in boards on both sides. 13 more rebounds, 10 more offensive boards, so despite ultimately shooting worse than the Buffs, the Bears managed to put up 13 more shots and three more field goals. Andre Roberson had a respectable game (8 boards, 13 points), but Quincy Acy beat him on the glass (10 boards), Quincy Miller and Deuce Bello chipped in nine more, and Colorado could not generate more shot attempts or try and press their advantage even when they defended the initial possessions correctly. Baylor's length was just that tough for Colorado's to deal with on both sides of the basketball court.
Ultimately, Colorado just ran into a better version of themselves. Baylor is a more athletic team with stronger forwards and better guards with a coherent offense. While the Buffaloes were disruptive enough to score a string of impressive upsets, they were in many ways exploiting teams that had discernible flaws. Baylor is the elite of the elite (with at least two NBA talents and possibly one or two more), and Colorado's offensive struggles caught up with them on that faithful 21-3 run that sent them home.
There's a lot for Colorado to look forward to. They return Roberson, who is a likely frontrunner for next year's Pac-12 Player of the Year, and promising freshman guard Spencer Dinwiddie, and Askia Booker has talent at the point. With the new recruiting class the Buffs have, Colorado should compete for the conference title once again.
For now, after a year of feeling like they'd been snubbed, they'll have to live with the surprise and satisfaction of the Round of 32. I expect the consensus will trend positive.