ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Colorado Buffaloes bolted the Big 12, and they still couldn't get away from the Baylor Bears.
The Buffs' magical March run that included four wins in four nights to win the Pac-12 tournament title in their first year in the expanded league and a win over UNLV in their NCAA opener came to a grinding halt Saturday night.
The Bears ended Colorado's season with a 19-3 game-ending run to turn a close contest into an 80-63 rout, led by Brady Heslip's bevy of 3-pointers.
By game's end, the Bears' fans — quiet when it was 61-60 with 7:46 left — were deliriously chanting, "Big 12 rejects" at their former conference brethren.
"We came up short tonight," Buffs coach Tad Boyle said. "In the second half, we couldn't make a shot, couldn't get our offense going, especially when they went to zone. That kind of changed the game. Tell you what, the fight and determination and the grit these guys have shown over the last 10 to 12 days is inspiring to me. I'm just very, very proud of our four seniors and the way they've handled themselves all year."
While Nate Tomlinson, Carlon Brown, Austin Default and Trey Eckloff set the tone, it's the young nucleus of freshmen Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie and sophomore Andre' Roberson that sparked the Buffs (24-12) and gives Colorado hope that this NCAA tournament trip wasn't a one-time thing.
Although the season ended on a downer, the Buffs' future looks bright. They seem much more comfortable and competitive playing out West and they're 10-3 in the postseason in Boyle's two years in Boulder.
"I think the future is in great hands under Coach Boyle and his staff," Brown said. "They've got some great guys coming in, a top-25 recruiting class, along with the guys that are returning, these two freshman stars, Askia and Spencer, and the backups, Jeremy (Adams) and Sab (Sabatino Chen). The list goes down to Shane (Harris-Tunks) and everybody else.
"So I expect Coach Boyle to get back here and this team to get back here and do better than we did and advance."
The Buffaloes have an NCAA tournament history you could stick on a business card. Maybe not for much longer.
On this night, though, Colorado just had no answer for Heslip, who scored all of his career-high 27 of his points from beyond the arc, sinking 9 of 12 3-pointers.
"Once he got going, it was almost impossible to stop," Brown said. "But I give our guys credit for trying to stop them and making the extra effort. He was just hot. Like Coach said, we couldn't make any shots to counteract that momentum they were getting from him."
Thanks to Heslip, the Bears (29-7) advanced to the South Regional semifinals, their second trip to the final 16 in three seasons. They'll play the winner between Xavier and Lehigh next Friday in Atlanta.
Heslip made six 3s in the first half to keep his cold-shooting teammates close. Then, he helped break open a tight game late. His 3-pointer with 6:56 came in the early stages of Baylor's 19-3 run to close the game. And it was contagious. Shortly after that make, Pierre Jackson (15 points, 10 assists) jacked one up from 3 feet behind the arc. Swish.
Then Heslip, not to be outdone, made No. 9 — leaving him only two short of the NCAA tournament record set by Jeff Fryer of Loyola Marymount in 1990.
The Buffs ran out of gas after Dufault's drive to the hoop made it 61-60, Bears, with 7:46 left. But they weren't about to blame their draining run through the Pac-12 tournament for sapping their strength and stamina at The Pit after a spirited first 32 minutes.
"We're not a team of excuses, so we're not going to say that's the reason," Brown said. "We just didn't make shots when we needed to make shots. Turned the ball over so many times in key moments of the game. Really that zone stifled us. We just didn't have it. No excuses."
Heslip simply could do no wrong. One of his 3s popped the net just as he was landing on his rump in front of the Bears' bench.
"He was unconscious tonight," Boyle marveled. "They run good stuff to get them open. They ran a back screen. Nate really guarded it well, and I think popped for a 3. I mean, he made some tough shots. But he was the difference in the game, there was no question about it, Brady Heslip and their 17 offensive rebounds."
And Heslip had six of his 3-pointers by halftime, too.
"The thing I like about our guys, Carlon said, we're not going to make excuses. We got beat," Boyle said. "But Brady Heslip was the difference in the game, and I thought Pierre Jackson was terrific as well."
Jackson chipped in 15 points for the Bears.
"We knew going in, those were the two guys. We had to contain Pierre Jackson and we had to get to Brady Heslip," Boyle said. "We didn't do a good job with either one. Pierre had 15 points and 10 assists, and Heslip goes off for 27."
Booker led the Buffs with 15 points, Dufault had 14 and Roberson and Brown each had 13.
"Besides tonight's loss, obviously, it's been the funnest two weeks of my life with these guys, just everything that we've accomplished," Dufault said. "It's just been really special and something I'll never forget."
AP National Writer Eddie Pells contributed. Follow Arnie Stapleton on Facebook and on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton
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