Kyle Ringo
Kyle Ringo

It was fair to wonder late in the first half Saturday afternoon at the Coors Events Center whether the Colorado Buffaloes had any heart.

Sure, coach Tad Boyle's men's basketball team had turned in some inspired performances and defeated some good teams earlier in the season, but the Texas Longhorns were making the Buffs look awful in a game crucial to the their postseason hopes. CU was down by 22. It was an embarrassment in the making.

A sellout crowd that included a healthy dose of burnt orange T-shirts soon had its answer.

Against a top-five team from deep in the heart of Texas, we found out what is deep in the heart of this group in silver, black and gold.

Character and resiliency come to mind.

Pride and toughness seem to fit well, too.

Those characteristics and a coaching staff that didn't panic and kept working hard and encouraging players to do the same allowed the Buffs to win 91-89 and keep their NCAA Tournament dreams alive by a slim margin.

Overcoming a 22-point lead against anyone in basketball is an accomplishment. It requires uncommon effort and determination. Doing it against the No. 5 team in the nation takes it to another level. Now consider that the Buffs did it with basically seven players.

A total of eight Buffs played in Saturday's triumph that sent people spilling out of the building grinning ear to ear. One of those players, freshman guard Shannon Sharpe, played only 3 minutes and all of it came in the first half when CU was floundering.

There aren't many comeback wins in the history of this program that can match what these Buffs accomplished Saturday, especially considering their lack of depth.

"It's amazing," senior Cory Higgins said.

He will get no argument here.

The final score belies just how impressive the Buffs' effort was. With about 2 minutes remaining in the game, CU had not only come all the way back, it led by 11 and was threatening to totally reverse the blowout. Some sharpshooting and a refusal to go away by the Longhorns prevented that, but not the Buffs' victory.

Students rushed the court when the final horn sounded. It was a scene you might have thought impossible while sitting through dozens of losses in recent years often with more gold seats available than filled.

If you missed Saturday's game, you missed the best overall performance in the two-year career of sophomore Alec Burks.

He scored 33 points with 10 rebounds and four assists. He committed only one turnover. The comeback, the victory, the celebration, he was at the center of it all.

Burks took over the game during one stretch in the first 10 minutes of the second half. It was the kind of performance yours truly questioned whether Burks had in him earlier this season. At that point, he hadn't demonstrated it. Now there is no question he is among the elite players in the Big 12 Conference and the nation.

Someone is going to have to do the sales job of a lifetime to convince the young man to stay at CU for another year at the end of this season instead of turning pro. No, he won't immediately be a star at the next level, but he can succeed there and develop into one later.

But there is plenty of time to worry about that.

Now the Buffs have no choice but to build on their accomplishment. A loss at Iowa State on Wednesday or at home next weekend against Nebraska would certainly sour them in the eyes of what already figures to be a skeptical NCAA Tournament selection committee.

The Buffs have a chance to get to 20 wins in these next seven days and claim a decent seed in the conference tournament. As players correctly pointed out Saturday, if they play the way they did against the Longhorns, they can beat anybody.

The Buffs' next outing will be their first in the month of March this season. But it will be the first relevant game they have played in March in years made possible by one heck of a second half Saturday.