ALBUQUERQUE - Grit, grinding defense and ferocious rebounding carried the Colorado Buffaloes further than anyone anticipated, but Baylor had an answer for all that (and more) Saturday night in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
The third-seeded Bears' overall length and athleticism, coupled with the uncanny three-point shooting of guard Brady Heslip, sent the No. 11 seed Buffs home with an 80-63 loss, denying CU its first trip to the Sweet 16 under the NCAA's current format.
CU, making its first NCAA appearance since 2003, finished its season at 24-12, while Baylor improved to 29-7 and advances to the Sweet 16 next weekend in Atlanta. The Bears join No. 4 seed Wisconsin, which edged No. 5 seed Vanderbilt 60-57 in Saturday's first game in The Pit.
Heslip, a 6-2 sophomore, finished with a game-best 27 points, hitting 9-of-12 three-pointers.
"Heslip was the difference; he was unconscious tonight - Brady Heslip and their 17 offensive rebounds," CU coach Tad Boyle said.
"Once he got going," said CU senior Carlon Brown of Heslip, "he was almost impossible to stop."
Heslip got help from mercurial point guard Pierre Jackson, who scored 15 points and added 10 assists. Four CU players reached double figures, including Askia Booker (15), Austin Dufault (14), Brown (13) and Andre Roberson (13).
At Friday's closed shoot-around at The Pit, Boyle concluded the session by gathering his players around him and telling them Baylor was longer and more athletic. "But we can beat them," he added, "because we're tougher."
The Buffs didn't disappoint Boyle in that department, but they didn't have enough elsewhere. Still, Boyle and his seniors stockpiled a lifetime of memories over the last two weeks.
"What I'll remember is the toughness and grit, the belief they started to get in themselves," Boyle said of CU's surprising four-day run to the Pac-12 Conference championship "This team came together and believed in itself."
Added Dufault: "It's been the funnest two weeks of my life. Something really special, something I'll never forget."
Brown wouldn't allow excuses for Saturday's loss: "This is not a team of excuses . . . we didn't make shots, we turned the ball over and that zone stifled us."
But after Brown left the interview room, Boyle said his players' "legs went . . . I was going to push these guys right up until the end. The gas tank ran out."
After shooting 56.5 percent from the field in the first half and still trailing 37-35, the Buffs were stymied in the second half by the Bears' zone. CU's second-half shooting dipped to 35.7 percent (10-of-28) and Baylor pulled away from a 54-54 tie with a 21-6 run, taking a commanding 75-60 lead in the final 5 minutes.
The Bears won the board battle 41-28 and forced 13 Buffs turnovers for 13 points. Baylor also got 14 fastbreak points to CU's two and 16 second-chance points to the Buffs' seven.
Heslip hit his first three-pointer on Baylor's first possession, and that 3-0 deficit marked CU's first in 61-plus minutes of its two most recent postseason games. And Heslip, who shoots 43.8 percent from behind the arc, wasn't stopping at one.
Before the first half was done, he drained another five, each one squelching a Buffs comeback. Mostly coming hard around ball screens and making it difficult for the Buffs to catch him, he finished the first 20 minutes with 18 points, almost twice his 9.9 average.
CU led three times in the first 3 minutes, the largest advantage being two points on two occasions. After the Buffs' final lead of the half (7-5), the Bears tied the score at 7-7 on a pair of Quincy Acy free throws, then went ahead to stay before intermission on . . . right, a Heslip trey (10-7).
Baylor led by as many as eight points (24-16) before a 7-0 CU run brought the Buffs to within 24-23. Again it was Heslip with a three-pointer that kept the Buffs at bay, and after his fifth trey of the half Baylor opened a six-point (34-28) advantage.
CU freshman Spencer Dinwiddie answered with a three-pointer, cutting the deficit in half, and Brown scored on a goal-tending call against Acy. The Buffs were back within 34-33, but Heslip's final three-ball of the half opened a 37-33 margin before Brown's layup made the halftime score 37-35.
All things considered - getting outrebounded 20-12, including allowing Baylor 12 offensive rebounds, chief among them - CU could live with a two-point halftime deficit. Roberson (11 points) was the only Buffs player in double figures at intermission.
One of CU's second-half objectives was clear - defend Heslip, and Buffs senior Nate Tomlinson drew that assignment first. Another was limiting Baylor's offensive rebounding. But before the Buffs could blink, the Bears had scored the second half's first six points and were back up by eight (43-35).
The Buffs pulled to within three (47-44) on a conventional three-point play by Askia Booker, to one (47-46) on a reverse layup by Dufault, then pulled even on a trey by Booker with 13:33 to play. But the best moment of the night for Buffs fans was just over a minute away.
CU took its first lead of the second half - 53-51 - when Brown followed a Shane Harris-Tunks layup attempt that rolled off the left side of the rim. When Brown banked in his put-back, the roar in the The Pit was deafening - and Baylor coach Scott Drew needed a timeout.
No CU rally was complete without Heslip having his say, and after Booker hit one of two free throws to put CU up 54-51, Heslip tied it with his first trey of the second half. His second - shot in transition at about the 7 minute mark - again pushed the Baylor ahead by six (66-60).
At a timeout with 6:41 to play, CU was at a critical stage. The Bears had answered, the Buffs needed to do the same. Baylor didn't allow it. After Jackson and Heslip drained back-to-back treys, the Bears took a 12-point lead - their largest of the night to that point - and CU had 4:51 to come back.
A third consecutive trey, this one by Anthony Jones, opened a 15-point Baylor lead (75-60) and a stellar season of CU basketball was all but done.
"In terms of Colorado basketball, I couldn't be more proud of this group," Boyle said. "The grit these guys have shown over last 12 days . . . they did this program proud. I couldn't be more excited, more optimistic (about the future). I told guys in the locker room it's not going to take nine more years to get back here . . . the last two weeks have galvanized our fan base. There's some excitement around our program that we need to capitalize on."