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Junior guard Josh Fortune elevates the ball toward the basket midway through the second half of play against Arizona at the MGM Garden Arena on March 10, 2016. (Nigel Amstock/CU Independent)

Buffs can’t complete late rally, fall out of NCAA Tournament to UConn

Contact CU Independent Sports Editor Sam Routhier at samuel.routhier@colorado.edu.

Some would say the book on University of Colorado basketball this season has been an inability to maintain double-digit leads and finish games. In a way, that makes the eighth seed Buffaloes’ 74-67 loss to ninth seed UConn in the NCAA Tournament’s first round in Des Moines on Thursday a cruelly fitting storybook ending.

After squandering what had been a nine-point lead at halftime, the Buffaloes found themselves down 13 points with 3:05 left in the second half. Rather than roll over, Colorado executed a press off of the Huskies’ inbounds plays that led to three Connecticut turnovers in the game’s final minutes.

The Buffaloes managed to close the gap to 66-63 with one minute remaining, but junior guard Josh Fortune turned over possession immediately after the Buffaloes forced a UConn turnover on what could have been a game-tying possession for Colorado. Senior guard Sterling Gibbs made both of his free throws on a subsequent foul, pushing the Huskies to a 68-63 advantage.

Although the Buffaloes would narrow the lead to three points twice more on layups from redshirt junior forward Wesley Gordon and sophomore guard Dominique Collier, Colorado could not overcome the Huskies and fell in the first round of the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years.

In his final game as a Colorado Buffalo, senior forward Josh Scott led the team in scoring and rebounds, with 23 and 11 respectively. Scott was also 13-of-18 at the free throw line, breaking Cliff Meely and Tom Harrold’s Colorado record for most free throws made in an NCAA Tournament game, which was 10. Scott also broke the record for free-throw attempts, 15, which was also held by Harrold. Senior guard Xavier Talton also bids farewell to the Buffaloes after four years; he managed seven points and five rebounds in the game.

Beyond Scott, Colorado had trouble coming up with answers against UConn’s tough defense. The Buffaloes were plagued by long stretches without any baskets, and in the game Scott was the only Colorado player to score in double-digits. Gordon and Collier finished with nine and eight respectively.

George King, Colorado’s second-leading scorer this season after Scott, scored only five points, making two field goal attempts out of six.

The Huskies were led in scoring by junior guard Rodney Purvis, who had 19 points, and sophomore guard Daniel Hamilton was close behind with 17. Hamilton led UConn in rebounds with 10.

An 11-point lead with three minutes remaining in the first half marked a high point for the Buffaloes in the contest, and they carried a nine-point edge over the Huskies into halftime with the score favoring Colorado 36-27.

Inconsistency plagued the Buffs as the second half began, compounded by a lack of success at the free throw line. Colorado made only 19 of its 30 free throw attempts in the game, while Connecticut, the nation’s top team in free throw percentage this season, hit 22-of-23 from the charity stripe.

UConn took its first lead on a Gibbs three-pointer with 11:39 remaining in the game, pushing the Huskies to a 47-46 advantage, and they never again trailed. Two timely threes from Purvis, and a series of fruitless possessions for Colorado that ended in turnovers or UConn rebounds, were key in the Huskies’ ability to push their lead to double-digits.

Although Scott found success eventually scoring in the paint for the Buffaloes, Uconn’s junior center Amida Brimah gave Colorado fits in the paint for much of the game. His five blocks were a team high in the game, and more than Colorado managed as a team. UConn also out-rebounded Colorado as a team, with 36 team rebounds against the Buffaloes’ 33.

UConn advances to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, where it will play the winner of Thursday’s game between first seed Kansas and 16th seed Austin Peay on Saturday, March 19.

About Sam Routhier

Sam Routhier is a sports editor at the CU Independent and a student at CU majoring in History and Journalism with an emphasis in news editorial. Sam writes and stars on podcasts about sports, music and popular culture at the CUI. In his spare time he enjoys consuming sports, music, and popular culture. And food, lots of food.

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