ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - The Colorado Buffaloes are getting the hang of this March Madness thing.
Carlon Brown’s thunderous windmill dunk off a full-court pass helped the 11th-seeded Buffaloes settle down after frittering away all but a bucket of a 20-point cushion and fend off the sixth-seeded Rebels 68-64 in the second round of the NCAA South Regional.
The 11th-seeded Buffs (24-11), who bullied their way into the NCAA tournament for the first time in nine years by winning the Pac-12 tournament as a No. 6 seed, suddenly can’t seem to do anything wrong. The team that got snubbed by the selection committee last year and used that as fuel for this season has won five straight games with its season essentially on the line.
“We talked at halftime about UNLV making a run on us, and they did. But we handled it. We got stops when we had to get stops. We did just enough,” said Buffs coach Tad Boyle, who is 10-2 in the postseason in his two years at CU.
“If you had told me before the game we’d turn it over 23 times and miss 10 free throws and beat a team as good as UNLV I would have said you’re crazy,” Boyle said. “But we found a way to do it.”
Colorado’s next test is against No. 3 seed Baylor, a winner over South Dakota State earlier and a former Big 12 rival of the Buffs. The Bears overcame an early deficit and a late charge to hold off NCAA tournament newcomer South Dakota State 68-60.
The other game in Albuquerque pits fourth-seeded Wisconsin (25-9) and fifth-seeded Vanderbilt (25-10) in the East Regional. Vandy held off Harvard 79-70 and the Badgers walloped Montana 73-49.
UNLV (26-9) limped into the NCAA tournament, having lost a series of games down the stretch, including a 65-45 drubbing by New Mexico.
Colorado (24-11) led 53-33 with 13:08 remaining in this one, then UNLV went on a 22-4 run to cut the margin to two at the 4:20 mark.
But UNLV, which didn’t win a game outside of Las Vegas since Jan. 28, missed its next seven shots and Brown took a full-court pass for a windmill dunk to help the Buffs gather themselves and win in their first NCAA appearance since 2003.
“When we play like that, we’re very good,” first-year Rebels coach Dave Rice said of his team’s furious rally. “It’s just hard to dig ourselves into that kind of a hole.”
The Baylor Bears started out looking like they were the NCAA tournament novices, not South Dakota State. Baylor came out jittery and fell behind 19-7 in the first 7 minutes, had to ditch its zone defense and finally started to use its superior strength and size to wear down the 14th-seeded Jackrabbits.
Although the Jackrabbits were in it until the end, they never regained the lead after Pierre Jackson, who led the Bears with 18 points, sank a 3-pointer that put Baylor ahead 24-22 with 5:45 left in the first half.
“They came out there swinging, knocking down open shots, knocking down contested 3s. Coach called a timeout, and we had to re-gather ourselves, and we switched to man,” Jackson said. “A.J. (Walton) came in and brought the defensive punch that we needed, and we got stops and got the lead.”
And never relinquished it.
“They’re a really good team, and we knew if we shot the ball well, we’d have a chance and we did that early,” Jackrabbits point guard Nate Wolters said. “We just couldn’t make plays down the stretch. We couldn’t get the rebound when we need it or a big shot when we need it, so it was tough luck.”
In the early session, Wisconsin walloped the Grizzlies. All-America point guard Jordan Taylor scored 17 points, pulled down eight rebounds, dished out six assists and committed no turnovers in masterfully directing the fourth-seeded Badgers’ rout of Montana.
“I’m just coming out trying to do anything I can to help my team win,” Taylor said. “I felt like I got some open looks there, especially in the first half. It’s the same for me as it is for everybody else. If you get an open look, you’ve just got to step in and knock it down. Just be aggressive and play confident.”
Ryan Evans, one of the three new starting forwards this season who benefited greatly from Taylor’s unselfish play and mentoring, led Wisconsin with 18 points and added eight boards to make up for five turnovers.
“I wanted to come out and play aggressive and loose,” said Evans, who had 14 points in the first half as the fourth-seeded Badgers built a double-digit lead that the Grizzlies couldn’t erase.
The other two newcomers in the lineup that benefited from Taylor’s dial-it-down style early in the season also came up big. Mike Bruesewitz had eight points and four boards, and Jared Berggren blocked seven shots.
The Badgers (25-9) improved to 10-1 in NCAA tournament openers under Bo Ryan, the winningest coach in the program’s history.
In “The Brain Bowl” between the Ivy League’s best and the only private school in the Southeastern Conference, John Jenkins made all six of his late free throws and scored 27 points to help Vanderbilt hold off Harvard.
Vanderbilt’s senior-heavy group won its NCAA opener after the Commodores went winless in the tournament in 2008, `10 and `11 despite being seeded 4th, 4th and 5th. The Commodores (25-10) were a 5 for this one, as well, but came in with a victory over top-ranked Kentucky last weekend and armed with plenty of lessons from past failures.
“We probably didn’t feel pressure, but we understand that people were looking at us as an upset trend in recent years,” senior Lance Goulbourne said. “But we play the game looking forward, not looking backward. So this is a different year.”
Something the Colorado Buffaloes know all about.
AP National Writer Eddie Pells contributed.
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