INDIANAPOLIS — For Colorado basketball fans who have been let down so many times watching the Buffaloes fizzle at the NCAA Tournament, the opening sequence easily could have been taken as a horrendous omen.
Just moments into CU’s opening-round game Saturday against Georgetown, a pass was delivered to Dallas Walton’s back. Georgetown’s Chudier Bile, from Denver South, took advantage of the quick turnover for an easy layup that immediately gave the Hoyas the game’s first lead.
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For a program that entered Saturday’s battle at Hinkle Fieldhouse having suffered three consecutive first-round defeats at the NCAA Tournament, it could have been an ominous here-we-go-again moment. Instead, it turned out to be just about the only thing that went wrong for the Buffs.
Combining a smothering defensive effort with a torrid performance from the 3-point line, the fifth-seeded Buffs ended that first-round drought with a thorough drubbing of the Hoyas, cruising to a 96-73 victory to advance to a second-round date on Monday against fourth-seeded Florida State (5:45 p.m. MT, TBS).
After putting together one of their most complete games in recent memory on college basketball’s biggest stage, the Buffs are one win away from earning their first berth in the Sweet 16. Following their loss against Oregon State in the Pac-12 Conference championship game, the Buffs vowed to bring more joy to the floor, believing their intensity proved too shackling against the Beavers.
Against the Hoyas, the Buffs were all smiles.
“Against Oregon State, we didn’t play like ourselves,” CU forward Evan Battey said. “We weren’t having fun. We weren’t in our normal routine. All the things we normally do with our playing style, we weren’t doing. Today, the whole team emphasized having fun. Have fun competing. Today there wasn’t one time I wasn’t smiling, and that’s huge for our morale.
“I made sure that today, on the biggest stage in basketball, that my voice was all positive.”
The Buffs never trailed after reeling off a 10-0 run early in the first half, a burst capped by back-to-back 3-pointers from Jabari Walker and McKinley Wright IV.
Walker was just getting warmed up.
The freshman forward turned in a monster game off the bench, going 5-for-5 on 3-pointers and finishing with a career-high 24 points. Walker went 9-for-10 overall and hit his first four 3-pointers in the first half as the Buffs raced to a 47-23 halftime lead.
Walker and D’Shawn Schwartz, who also hit five 3-pointers, topped Askia Booker’s team record for 3-pointers in an NCAA Tournament game. Schwartz missed his first two 3-point attempts but went 5-for-5 the rest of the way while matching a season-high with 18 points.
Wright recorded the 15th double-double of his career, finishing with 12 points and 13 assists. Wright’s assist total was the most by a CU player in the NCAA Tournament, and it improved his season total to 181, the second-best single-season mark in Buffs history behind Jose Winston’s record 194 assists in 2000-01. Wright owns four of the program’s top nine single-season assist totals.
Overall, the Buffs finished with a robust .607 mark from the floor, also breaking the team shooting percentage record for an NCAA Tournament game that had stood for 52 years (.569 against Texas A&M in 1969).
CU was equally dominant at the other end of the floor, holding the Hoyas to a .397 mark, a figure that was bolstered by a late and meaningless flurry by Georgetown.
“We wanted our threes to come as a result of our paint touches and attacking the rim, whether it was in transition, whether it was in the half-court,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “Our guys did a good job of that. When we’re attacking the rim and finishing at the rim like we did (against Georgetown), and we’re kicking out for threes and making threes, we’re a really, really hard team to guard.”
What went right: CU shot .607 overall and went 16-for-25 on 3-pointers.
What went wrong: Very little, though Georgetown outrebounded CU 29-28.
Star of the game: Jabari Walker. The freshman came off the bench to light up Hinkle Fieldhouse, going 9-for-10 overall and 5-for-5 on 3-pointers before finishing with a career-high 24 points.
What’s next: The Buffs will play for a berth in the Sweet 16 when they take on fourth-seeded Florida State in the second round on Monday.
No. 22 Colorado 96, Georgetown 73
Bile 4-8 0-0 10, Pickett 3-13 4-5 11, Wahab 7-12 6-9 20, Carey 3-4 9-9 17, D.Harris 3-12 0-0 7, Blair 2-6 0-0 5, Ighoefe 0-0 0-3 0, Berger 1-2 0-0 3, Holloway 0-0 0-0 0, Clark 0-0 0-0 0, Sibley 0-1 0-0 0, Wilson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-58 19-26 73.
Battey 3-6 0-0 6, Walton 3-4 2-2 9, Parquet 3-4 2-2 10, Wright 4-8 3-3 12, Schwartz 6-8 1-2 18, Walker 9-10 1-1 24, Horne 1-7 0-0 2, Daniels 1-2 0-0 2, Barthelemy 1-2 3-4 6, da Silva 0-0 0-0 0, Clifford 1-2 0-0 3, O’Brien 2-3 0-0 4, Strating 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 34-56 12-14 96.
Halftime – Colorado 47-23. 3-Point Goals – Georgetown 8-24 (Carey 2-3, Bile 2-5, Berger 1-2, Blair 1-3, Pickett 1-4, D.Harris 1-6, Sibley 0-1), Colorado 16-25 (Walker 5-5, Schwartz 5-7, Parquet 2-3, Clifford 1-1, Walton 1-1, Barthelemy 1-2, Wright 1-2, Horne 0-4). Rebounds – Georgetown 28 (Wahab 12), Colorado 29 (Wright 5). Assists – Georgetown 12 (Pickett 6), Colorado 27 (Wright 13). Total Fouls – Georgetown 16, Colorado 17.
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