Colorado-UNLV Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 14, 2012
Stacey Augmon, Larry Johnson, Jerry Tarkanian, NCAA violations. Yes, you could play the word association game for hours and not run out of memories, good and bad, for UNLV. As for Colorado? Well, this is the program that produced Chauncey Billups. And there was the time the coach took a sledgehammer to the locker room as a not-so-subtle way of getting a construction project going. Even more recently, there was an NCAA snub that still bothers this team a year later. One school with a secure spot on the college basketball landscape meets another trying to find one Thursday in the South regional. In an odd twist, it's the sixth-seeded Runnin' Rebels looking for a spark while the 11th-seeded Buffs have suddenly found theirs. UNLV (26-8) comes to The Pit with a 5-5 record in its last 10 games and without a win away from home since Jan. 28. Colorado (23-11), meanwhile, won the Pac-12 tournament as a No. 6 seed and forced its way into the tournament, a year after standing out as one of the most notable snubs of Selection Sunday. ''Last year's snub still hurts today,'' coach Tad Boyle said. ''Probably hurts more today than it did last year at this time.'' Outside of Colorado, though, it was a story with a 24-hour lifespan. There was the same collective yawn - at least from a basketball perspective - when Colorado announced it was moving out of the Big 12 and into the Pac-12. This was a program that lost its last 18 games against Kansas, a program with a total of three (now four) appearances in the NCAA since 1969, the most notable of which was arguably when CU lost to North Carolina for Dean Smith's record 877th career victory in 1997. Basketball took a backseat to a football program that, itself, struggled for relevancy after some troubled years. Jeff Bzdelik hoped to change that when he left Air Force to coach the Buffs in 2007, but after waiting a few frustrating months to see the start of a facility upgrade that wasn't happening, he took a sledgehammer to the locker room. Five years later, the facilities - though not the arena - are new and sparkling, and Boyle, who has Kansas roots, is getting a grip on what it takes to win at Colorado. Led by senior Carlon Brown, a transfer from Utah who once considered UNLV, and sophomore Andre Roberson, who averages a double-double, the Buffaloes won four straight at the tournament on the heels of bad losses at Oregon and Oregon State that took them out of the running for an at-large bid. Colorado fans will be glad to learn that only nine teams from the major conferences have won four games in their conference tournaments. The last one? The 2011 Connecticut team - and everyone knows how that turned out. Boyle isn't thinking national championship quite yet - just national relevancy. ''In terms of what happened last year, you've got to ask the committee that,'' he said. ''In terms of what I think, we have some work to do to get some respect on the national level. The reason we were so disappointed last year was we felt like we had a team that could do that and a very explosive team with what's turned out to be two NBA players on it, one lottery pick (Alec Burks). We've used that as inspiration.'' On the other hand, there's UNLV - a program that has never struggled with name recognition. Jolting as Tarkanian's run was back in the `70s, `80s and early `90s - four Final Fours and the 1990 national title - the reclamation job started eight years ago by Lon Kruger, then taken over this year by Dave Rice, a longtime assistant who played guard on the championship team, has been just as impressive. ''For me, being a local, it means a ton,'' said junior Anthony Marshall, a Vegas kid who grew up hearing stories about the legends. ''It really made me want to come back and help bring those glory days back to Las Vegas. I feel we're doing something pretty special right now.'' How far down in the seedings UNLV got pushed by this recent bit of bad play is anybody's guess. Included in the February struggles was a 65-45 loss to New Mexico in The Pit. But UNLV had the most difficult nonconference schedule in the Mountain West, according to ESPN, and went 16-2 in games outside the conference. Regardless of Thursday's outcome, it figures the table is set in Vegas for a while. Strong name recognition and a history of winning and tradition can do that for you. When Kruger left for Oklahoma, 11 players returned to play for Rice, including the leading scorer, Chace Stanback, and rebounder, Mike Moser, who sat out last year after transferring from UCLA. ''I think that speaks volumes about the tradition of our program, the fact that the guys wanted to stay and be part of our vision,'' Rice said. ''Absolutely, we feel like we can get involved with anyone in the country because of the tradition of our program, our style of play and the success we've had.''
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