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Tristan da Silva, CU Buffs look to make most of NCAA Tournament opportunity

Mar. 19—DAYTON, Ohio — Tristan da Silva still was just beginning a collegiate career full of promise when Colorado last joined the Big Dance. It was a much different world.

COVID had seriously altered the 2020-21 season, with canceled and postponed games making the schedule a jumbled mess of fits and starts while eliminating fans from the stands. As for da Silva, he was a true freshman recently arrived from Germany without ever having visited the CU campus before joining the Buffaloes.

Da Silva was one of the last reserves off the bench for that team. That certainly won't be the case on Wednesday.

In the three years since, da Silva has forged a career that will leave its mark in the history book of the CU men's basketball team. Yet it's a career he's intent on prolonging as long as possible as the Buffs get set for a battle against Boise State in the NCAA First Four in Dayton.

"It was kind of different because of COVID, obviously. And my role on the team," da Silva said. "But I remember it being a lot of fun playing that Georgetown game (in the first round), even the Florida State game (in the second round), just being a part of it, being a part of something bigger."

The Buffs are making the sixth NCAA Tournament in 14 seasons under head coach Tad Boyle, a figure that would be at seven if not for the cancellation of the 2020 tournament. It is, by far, a level of sustained success unmatched in program history, and yet that postseason history also is marked by disappointment and frustration.

Perhaps the most glaring omission in the history of the Boyle-era Buffs is the lack of an appearance on the second weekend of the tournament, as only two of the previous five Boyle-led tournament teams advanced out of the first round. Both of those teams lost in the second round, and CU's narrow inclusion in the 68-team field and designation in the First Four bracket puts an extra challenge in the path to finally reaching the Sweet 16.

Da Silva and Luke O'Brien got on the floor during garbage time of CU's 2021 first-round rout of Georgetown, with da Silva also coming off the bench for 10 minutes in the second-round loss against Florida State. Center Eddie Lampkin Jr. boasts CU's most significant NCAA Tournament experience, as he enjoyed one of the best games of his career for TCU in a 2022 second round overtime loss against Arizona, going 8-for-9 with 20 points and a career-high 14 rebounds.

It's not a wealth of tournament experience for the Buffs, but the impact of tournament experience is debatable. The two Boyle-led teams that reached the second round (2012, 2021) had little to no tournament experience compared to the three teams that lost in the first round (2013, 2014, 2016).

"I think there's something to it. You'd rather have experience than not. There's no doubt about it," Boyle said. "There's no teacher in life like experience. I look at a team like Florida Atlantic, who has a lot of guys back from last year. I think they have an advantage because they've been through that (Final Four run last year). I'm not saying it's a huge advantage. It's not something you can't overcome. But when your players know what's coming and they've been there before, it helps."

CU faces a Boise State squad that has been battle-tested in a deep Mountain West Conference, which sent a league-record six teams into the 68-team tournament field. The Broncos went 6-5 against the other MWC tournament teams, including a two-game sweep of San Diego State and road wins against Nevada and New Mexico. The Broncos also posted a nonconference win against Saint Mary's, which received a No. 5 seed in the tournament.

As for the Buffs, despite the loss against Oregon in the Pac-12 title game, Boyle believes the eight-game win streak that preceded that defeat and put CU in position to earn an NCAA berth showcased a team playing its best basketball of the season. Now the challenge is to sustain that peak in the postseason.

"When you finish the season winning eight of nine games, you've achieved that goal," Boyle said about peaking in March. "Now, the fact of the matter is, here's the final part of the season. This is the tournament that you literally — there's 365 days in a year, and in 364 of them you're preparing for this day. Get your named called. Get your seed. Get your opponent. Figure out where you're going, when you're playing. That's what you coach for. That's what you play for. This is exciting. It should be exciting and I want our guys to embrace it."

(10) Boise State Broncos vs. (10) CU Buffs men's basketball

TIPOFF: Wednesday, 7:10 p.m. MT, Dayton Arena, Dayton, Ohio.

TV/RADIO: truTV/KOA 850 AM and 94.1 FM.

RECORDS: Boise State 22-10; Colorado 24-10.

COACHES: Boise State — Leon Rice, 14th season (290-165 at Boise State and overall). Colorado — Tad Boyle, 14th season (296-182, 352-248 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Boise State — F Tyson Degenhart, 6-8, Jr. (17.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg, .509 FG%); G Chibuzo Agbo, 6-7, Sr. (13.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg, .417 3%); F O'Mar Stanley, 6-8, Jr. (13.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg, .551 FG%); G Max Rice, 6-5, Gr. (12.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, .357 3%); G Roddie Anderson III, 6-3, So. (6.2ppg, 2.4 apg); F Cam Martin, 6-9, Gr. (5.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.5 apg). Colorado — G KJ Simpson, 6-2, Jr. (19.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 4.9 apg, .479 FG%, .453 3%); F Tristan da Silva, 6-9, Sr. (15.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.4 apg, .482 FG%, .377 3%); G Cody Williams, 6-8, Fr. (12.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg, .565 FG%, .421 3%); G J'Vonne Hadley, 6-6, Sr. (11.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg, .549 FG%, .429 3%); C Eddie Lampkin Jr., 6-11, Sr. (10.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg, .570 FG%); G/F Luke O'Brien, 6-8, Sr. (6.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, .390 3%).

NOTES: CU finished 5-5 against NCAA Tournament teams this season, going 4-4 within the Pac-12 (2-1 against Washington State, 2-1 against Oregon, 0-2 against Arizona), while losing to Colorado State and defeating Grambling State in nonconference play. ... On Tuesday, Simpson landed NABC District 19 first team all-region honors. He is the first first-team selection for CU since McKinley Wright IV in 2021. ... The Buffs are 11-17 all-time in their 15 previous NCAA Tournament appearances. ... Boise State is making its 10th NCAA Tournament appearance and its fifth under Rice. The Broncos have never won an NCAA Tournament game. ... Boise State is in the tournament for a third consecutive year for the first time in program history. ... CU has tied the program record with 24 wins, sharing the mark with two other Boyle-led teams (2010-11, 2011-12). ... Ten of the 14 20-win seasons in CU history have occurred under Boyle. ... The winner will play seventh-seeded Florida on Friday afternoon in Indianapolis (2:30 p.m. MT, TBS). The Gators are reeling from the loss of starting center Micah Handlogten (6.9 rpg, 5.3 ppg), who suffered a broken leg in the SEC title game.