CU hopes to keep rolling, UNLV wants to stop slide

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.”