|Carlon Brown and the Buffs revel in the famed raucous atmosphere at The Pit. (Getty Images)|
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- This time, the arena won, too.
They say four games were played here Thursday. All I know is that The Pit advanced. Put it back in the Final Four rotation. It will never happen as long as NFL stadiums are considered proper venues for the NCAA tournament, but a hack can dream, can't he?
The third-place team from the Mountain West and the fifth-place team from the Pac-12 wrapped up the first day of the tournament and it felt like 1983 again on the University of New Mexico's home court. Eleventh-seeded Colorado beat No. 6 seed UNLV 68-64 in a South Regional opening game that had the feel of a regional final.
It wasn't an upset. It was a flashback. As the games rolled on here Thursday, the atmosphere in one of the nation's best basketball barns got better.
The NCAA president was here. So were at least two BCS commissioners. Only three of the newly renovated building's 40 suites weren't filled. It was happening. Rebel shouted at Buffalo, which mingled with Lobo. In its day job, this is the home of New Mexico, the Mountain West champions. That's when it really gets cranked up here -- sometimes up to 125 decibels.
Neutral court? When UNLV made a late run, ears split. Fans didn't. Colorado held on to win its first NCAA tournament game in 15 years.
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Chalk one up for the building, for the fans, for Albuquerque. New Mexico's program might be a mid-major. Its arena is top five.
"It lived up to its reputation tonight," Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. "This is a great basketball community, a great basketball venue. I love the intimacy of it and the energy in that arena."
I'm not the only one who has been at too many Thursday first-round sites where the arenas are half full of somnambulant fans.
"I've been part of first-round or second-round games where you can hear a pin drop," Boyle added.
This wasn't one of them. Twenty-nine years ago, The Pit entered the national consciousness when it hosted one of the best Final Fours ever. Let's be clear, there wasn't a guy on the floor Thursday who could hold Hakeem Olajuwon's jock.
UNLV is a year away. There are a couple of big-time recruits coming in. First-year coach Dave Rice did well to post 26 wins after arriving in April to replace Lon Kruger. These Rebels still carry themselves with a bit of swagger despite their No. 6 seed being the program's highest in two decades. Forward Carlos Lopez died the tips of his Mohawk red. Yes, and that was a UNLV band member waving a stuffed shark.
That was throwback cool, except that the Rebels can best be described as a jump-shooting team that doesn't shoot that well. It didn't Thursday night, misfiring on 48 of its 71 shots.
A skeptic would argue that Colorado has never arrived. But The Pit remains a national monument to college basketball. This is the place where the legend of Jim Valvano was born. This is where Louisville and Houston played one of the most athletic, entertaining, above-the-rim games in tournament history.
Colorado doesn't get this much love at home. CU basketball has been putrid for a long time. It was an afterthought in the Big 12. Boyle is making it matter. The Buffs have won five in a row at the right time. Who knows where runs like this come from? Boyle was worried about the quality of practices following the sacking of L.A. last week at the Pac-12 tournament. Then he figured out who he is dealing with.
"When we got down here and didn't practice well, it concerned me at the time," Boyle said. "After it was over with, I looked at what these guys had been through emotionally and mentally and physically over the last week and said, 'I've got to cut them a break.' "
Now there is history to be made. Thursday's win as the first for the Buffs in the tournament since 1997. Even then, they were upstaged. That year they beat Bob Knight, then lost to Dean Smith in the game that pushed the North Carolina coach past Adolph Rupp for the top spot (then) on the all-time wins list.
"We feel like we can take down Baylor," Andre Roberson said of Colorado's Round of 32 opponent, which it will play Saturday. "We believe in ourselves."
What in the name of Bill McCartney has happened to these Buffs in the last week? They were reenergized last week in the basketball mausoleum also known as the Staples Center during the Pac-12 tournament. They won four games in four days just to get there.
Three days into the NCAA tournament, the Buffs are the last Pac-12 team standing. That is, if you don't count the five others left in the NIT and CBI.
"We owed to the rest of the teams in our league to play well tonight," Boyle said. "That's only way you get rid of that stigma."
The stigma being that the Pac-12 can't play dead at the moment. CU AD Mike Bohn made sure his fans got on the bus by springing for -- a bus, among other things. There were 110 students who paid $50 each for transportation, room and a ticket from Boulder to here. When the Buffs got going, those 110 seemed like 11,000.
The official attendance was 11,839. It just seemed like more.