Tad Boyle remembers.
For the first time since posting what remains the only NCAA Tournament win of his tenure as the Colorado men's basketball team, Boyle will take his Buffaloes to The Pit, the historic arena at the University of New Mexico, on Tuesday night.
Certainly there were memorable moments to follow after that triumphant day in 2012. Yet the visions of all those future championship banners that seemed certain to come almost seven years ago have gone unfulfilled since Boyle last brought his Buffaloes to Albuquerque.
With the core Boyle currently has in place after turning over the roster in recent years, following the run of four tournament appearances in five seasons, the time is now for the Buffs to again take their turn at the Big Dance.
"It seems like a lifetime ago," Boyle said. "That was an NCAA Tournament environment. It wasn't a New Mexico environment. That's a different animal. We had a lot of Buff fans down there for that tournament victory. I remember them singing the fight song and the band playing."
No doubt, it was a great day to be a Buff.
On March 15, 2012 — just five days after completing an unprecedented and still not-repeated run of four wins in four days to win the Pac-12 Conference tournament — Boyle's Buffaloes walked off the floor at The Pit on the winning end of a 68-64 decision against UNLV in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
It wasn't necessarily a picturesque victory (the Buffs' 23 turnovers kept things close) but there arguably have never been two more satisfying wins within the same week in the 116-year history of the program. It was CU's first tournament win in 15 years and just the second in 43 years.
And surely those wins were to be the first of many postseason triumphs to come. Boyle's star was on the rise. The CU Events Center was rockin'. Future NBA standouts Andre Roberson and Spencer Dinwiddie were set to return. Prized big man recruit Josh Scott was on his way. And the offensive star of that win at The Pit, a freshman named Askia Booker who came off the bench to go 2-for-3 on 3-pointers and 6-for-6 at the free throw line, had Buffs fans picturing similar offensive fireworks in the wealth of NCAA Tournament wins surely on the horizon.
Those players are long gone now. And those fans are still waiting.
It wasn't exactly downhill from there after winning at The Pit. CU reached the tournament the next two seasons and again in 2016, even leading by nine at halftime in 2016 against UConn. And still another tournament win never happened.
That's why it's imperative, in this the ninth season of Boyle's tenure, for this young and up-and-coming group of Buffaloes to reach college basketball's Promised Land. This is team checks all the boxes required of an NCAA Tournament club, though the key players in that mix still have areas of growth that need to be reached if the Buffs are to get the job done.
CU features a sturdy point guard capable of taking over in crunch time in McKinley Wright, who nonetheless has to lead the Buffs' efforts to improve a seemingly annual turnover problem that once again is dogging the team. Lucas Siewert needs to continue to make the steady strides he has displayed since the midpoint of last season. Tyler Bey's toughness must rise to the level of his electric athletic skills. D'Shawn Schwartz has to be a difference-maker in every game, and not disappear as he did in two scoreless outings among his first five games of the season.
Those are just a few points among several. But make no mistake — in a Pac-12 that already has been consistently underwhelming during nonconference play, there is no reason the Buffs shouldn't finish in the top half of the standings or even compete for one of the top four spots and a bye in the first round of the league tournament.
The Buffs are supposed to be a much-improved version over the freshman-heavy club of a year ago. Among the Pac-12 clubs that finished ahead of CU last year, only Washington can make that same claim with a straight face.
With one senior, CU still is a young club. Yet given the confluence of talent and opportunity, their time is now.
"I don't want to be able to point to (The Pit in 2012) as the highlight," Boyle said. "I want to be able to get to the second weekend. You look at that point in time, and how close we were to getting to the Elite Eight, that's where the line is very, very fine. It's hard enough to get to the tournament. And then to win in the tournament is even harder. That's where we want to get this program, though. That's the unfinished business that we chase."