Many UNLV fans expressed delight on message boards and through social media upon seeing Colorado pop up on the bracket as the Rebels’ first-round opponent in the NCAA Tournament.
Colorado players weren’t exactly quaking in their boots at the pairing, though.
"Playing UNLV will be a pretty good matchup for us. A lot of the guys think that’s a team we can definitely beat, but we definitely respect them," Colorado senior forward Austin Dufault said. "They have a lot of great players. We look forward to the matchup."
The Buffaloes have to be thrilled to just be in the tournament. After a nonconference schedule with no signature victories, Colorado (23-11) slogged through a weak Pacific-12 Conference slate at 11-7 and had no hope of making the field without an improbable run through the league tournament.
Senior guard Carlon Brown, a transfer from Utah, got hot and the Buffaloes were able to win four games in four days to capture the automatic bid. That momentum could make them a more dangerous opponent for UNLV (26-8).
"I’ve always believed when you play a team that has just won its conference tournament, you’re playing a team that’s on a roll," UNLV coach Dave Rice said. "They will be feeling very good about themselves and with good reason."
While UNLV hasn’t played Colorado in basketball since 1981, the Rebels are familiar with Brown, the Buffaloes’ leading scorer at 12.6 points per game. He played his first three seasons in the Mountain West Conference with Utah and scored 16 and 18 points in two matchups against UNLV during the 2009-10 regular season. He scored 12 points on 2-for-11 shooting in a conference tournament loss to the Rebels.
"He’s a very aggressive offensive player," said UNLV guard Anthony Marshall, who played in all three of those games. "Anytime he has the ball you know that he can either shoot the 3 or drive. He’s a very good athlete. We know what type of player he is and what he’s capable of and he’s a major part of their success. It’s going to be a fun matchup playing against him again."
Brown gained national attention for a pair of spectacular dunks during the Pac-12 tournament that were shown repeatedly on highlight shows.
He has plenty of help on a balanced team that has four scorers averaging double figures, plus a solid senior point guard in Australian Nate Tomlinson.
Andre Roberson, a sophomore forward, averages 11.6 points and 11.1 rebounds. He already holds the school record for rebounds in a season. Freshman guard Spencer Dinwiddie shoots 44 percent from 3-point range and makes 83 percent of his free throws.
Coach Tad Boyle said the fact his team is such a surprise entrant in the field, in a year when the Buffaloes were picked to finish 11th in their first Pac-12 season, could allow them to play free of expectations.
"We’ll go there and just play, let it all hang out," Boyle said. "We’ve got nothing to lose."
Contact reporter Adam Hill at email@example.com or 702-224-5509.Follow the tournament from start to finish on our NCAA bracket.