ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The basket was as wide as the ocean for Brady Heslip, and because of that, the future looks as bright as those uniforms for the Baylor Bears.
Heslip made 9 of 12 from behind the 3-point line Saturday to lift third-seeded Baylor and their highlighter-yellow uniforms to a pullaway 80-63 victory over No. 11 Colorado. The Bears (29-7) advance 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, the Boston College transfer who grew up playing — and losing — lots of H-O-R-S-E games with his father up in Canada would have beaten just about anybody on this electric day at The Pit.
He 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 left 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 three feet behind the arc. Swish. Anthony Jones also made one.
But Heslip, not to be outdone, sandwiched No. 9 in between those — leaving him only two short of the NCAA tournament record set by Jeff Fryer of Loyola Marymount in 1990. Those nine also matched the number put up by Purdue’s Courtney Moses in the women’s tournament a few hours earlier.
Heslip’s wasn’t a record, but they’ll certainly let that one go at Baylor.
The Bears came into this game taller, longer and more athletic than Colorado (24-12), but the Buffs matched their hustle through the entire first half and beyond.
With the two Qs — Quincy Acy and Quincy Miller — shut down along with Perry Jones III, Heslip kept pulling up from long range and hitting nothing but net. He had matched his career high, with six at halftime — the most in one half of the tournament since Butler’s Shelvin Mack did it in 2010.
Heslip, who finished with 27 points, celebrated a few of his makes by pinching together his thumb and forefinger on each hand and lifting the other three digits in the air.
A little bit cocky? Sure. But if you can back it up …
Askia Booker had 15 points for Colorado, which was on an amazing, but leg-sapping, run: Four wins in four nights last week at the Pac-12 tournament to get to March Madness, then a down-to-the-wire win over UNLV to open the South Regional.
It was quite a show for the Buffs, who made the NCAAs for only the fourth time since 1969. When Booker hit a 3 with 10:30 left, the Buffs led 57-54, and it looked like the show might move onto Atlanta.
But Colorado scored only six points the rest of the way, worn down by the adrenaline-pumping run of the last two weeks, to say nothing of the athleticism of the Bears, a team that started the season 17-0 and rose to as high as third in The Associated Press poll. Colorado’s winning streak ended at five.
Acy finished with seven points and 10 boards, Miller had eight and five and Perry Jones III, considered NBA material, struggled inside and had only seven points and four boards.
The Bears won this matchup of one-time Big 12 foes — a series that ended when CU moved out after last season, but presented a surprising encore in March 2012.
It was back-and-forth, entertaining basketball for 35 minutes. Make that 40 if you were in the Baylor camp. With another win, the Bears will be in the regional finals for the second time since 2010 — after never winning three games in a single tournament before.
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