ORLANDO, Fla. — Colorado’s season came to a screeching halt in the NCAA tournament, leaving coach Tad Boyle shaking his head in amazement.
The Buffaloes shot poorly and turned the ball over far too often in a 77-48 loss to Pittsburgh in the second round of the South Regional, but what bothered Boyle most was his team didn’t rebound or play well enough defensively to even give themselves a chance to be successful.
“The defensive effort and focus and intensity we had today was pathetic,” Boyle said.
When Pitt (26-9) plays like it did Thursday, the ninth-seeded Panthers think they’re capable of competing with anyone.
It was difficult to argue against that after Talib Zanna virtually did anything he wanted against the Buffaloes, scoring 16 of his 18 points in the opening half to help his team built a 28-point advantage. Pitt scored the first 13 points of the game and led by as many as 32.
“We’re a better team now than we were earlier in the year,” Panthers coach Jamie Dixon said. “That’s what you hope to be.”
Pitt shot 51 percent and played one of their best games of the season defensively in advancing.
Meanwhile, the 29-point defeat was the largest-ever for Colorado (23-12) in the NCAA tournament. The previous low point was a 73-46 loss to eventual national champion Cincinnati in 1962.
“We went through a lot of adversity with injuries and some players stepped up,” Colorado’s Xavier Johnson said. “But we didn’t want to go out like this.”
The eight-seeded Buffaloes, who played without injured point guard Spencer Dinwiddie for the last two months of the season, were eager to make amends for an early exit from the tournament a year ago. But they had no answers for the 6-foot-9 Zanna, who made six of seven shots in the first half.
“We’ve got to take care of the ball better and we’ve got to guard better and we’ve got to rebound better,” Boyle said. “We didn’t do any of those things today. I don’t know what Colorado team it was.”
Josh Scott led the Buffaloes with 14 points, however Colorado couldn’t overcome a subpar performance for Askia Booker, who missed his first seven shots and didn’t score from the field until four minutes into the second half.
Cameron Wright had 11 points and Lamar Patterson finished with 10 for Pitt, which moved from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference this season, where it finished fifth.
Zanna, who had a monster game in the ACC tournament with 19 points and 21 rebounds against North Carolina, didn’t attempt a shot in the second half, when Dixon gave his starters plenty of rest. Michael Young had nine points in 21 minutes and no regular played more than 30.
“I was just trying to be patient. I know if I’m open, the ball is going to come to me,” said Zanna, a senior from Kaduna, Nigeria. “I was wide open just trying to run the floor, and I was just having wide-open layups.”
Colorado, whose 23 wins are the second-most in school history, entered the game coming off one of their worst offensive performances of the season in 20-point loss to Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament. The Buffaloes were limited to a season-low 15 field goals while shooting 29 percent from the field with Scott finishing with a season-low four points and two rebounds.
It didn’t get any better against Pitt, which is in the NCAA tournament for the 10th time in 11 seasons under Dixon. The Panthers lost in the second round to Wichita State a year ago and will be looking for their first trip to the round of 16 since 2009 when they try to extend their first season in the ACC on Saturday.
“They came out from the start and got on us early and we weren’t able to recover,” Colorado’s Xavier Johnson said. “No one want to go out like that, so it hurts. But that will motivate us to get better in the offseason.”
Colorado shot 29.4 percent from the field in the opening half, with Booker missing all four of his attempts from the field and being limited to a pair of free throws. Scott had five points on 2 for 3 shooting, but an even bigger indication of the team’s troubles: the Buffaloes had zero assists and 10 turnovers.
Pitt, meanwhile, matched its point total for its previous game, a 51-48 loss to Virginia in the semifinals of last week’s ACC tournament. The Panthers had 13 assists on 18 baskets in the first 20 minutes, and they outscored Colorado 12-2 in points off turnovers in building the 28-point halftime lead.