March 17, 2012
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - With his 3-point goggles on, the bucket never looked quite so big for Brady Heslip. Because of that, the future's looking as bright as those uniforms for the Baylor Bears.
Heslip, the kid who grew up playing H-O-R-S-E with his dad in Canada, made a big splash in America on Saturday, going 9 of 12 from 3-point range and lifting the third-seeded Bears to a pullaway 80-63 victory over No. 11 Colorado in the NCAA tournament.
"When they set great screens and they make passes that are on target and on time, it just makes it easy for me," Heslip said. "Especially if I'm in rhythm and feeling good shooting."
He was, and because of it, Baylor (29-7) will bring the highlighter-yellow uniforms down to Atlanta for a South Regional semifinal against Xavier or Lehigh next Friday.
Heslip, in the meantime, will enjoy his status as Baylor's newest star.
He celebrated a few of his makes by pinching together his thumb and forefinger on each hand, putting the circle over his eye and lifting the other three digits in the air. The 3-point goggles.
While all this was going on, he began trending on Twitter -- and in the postgame Q&A, we learned that he chews Doublemint gum, has been a gym-and-driveway rat in his hometown of Burlington, Ontario since he was 3 and is the nephew of one-time Canadian hoops star and Toronto Raptors head coach Jay Triano.
"Ever since I was growing up, they never forced it on me," Heslip said of his hoop-loving family. "It was just something that I fell in love with."
The nine 3s and 27 points were his career highs -- and in this game, Baylor needed every one of them.
He made six from behind the arc in the first half to keep his cold-shooting teammates close. Then, he helped break open a tight game late. His 3-pointer with 6:56 was on the front side of Baylor's 19-3 run to close the game. And it was contagious. Shortly after that make, Pierre Jackson (15 points, 10 assists) jacked one up from three feet behind the arc. Swish. Anthony Jones also made one.
But Heslip, not to be outdone, sandwiched No. 9 in between those -- leaving him only two short of the NCAA tournament record set by Jeff Fryer of Loyola Marymount in 1990. Those nine also matched the number put up by Purdue's Courtney Moses in the women's tournament a few hours earlier.
"When he came in, we knew how good of a shooter he was," Baylor forward Quincy Acy said. "Every time I went to the gym at night, I would see him in there. Sometimes twice a day. He works for it. I know whenever he gets hot, he can outshoot anybody."
The Bears came into this game taller, longer and more athletic than Colorado (24-12), but the Buffs matched their hustle through the entire first half and beyond.
With the two Qs -- Quincy Acy and Quincy Miller -- shut down along with Perry Jones III, Heslip kept pulling up from long range and hitting nothing but net. He had matched his career high, with six at halftime -- the most in one half of the tournament since Butler's Shelvin Mack did it in 2010.
"Once he got going, it was almost impossible to stop," Buffs guard Carlon Brown said.
Askia Booker had 15 points and Austin Dufault had 14 for Colorado, which was on a remarkable, but leg-sapping, run: Four wins in four nights last week at the Pac-12 tournament to get to March Madness, then a down-to-the-wire win over UNLV to open the South Regional.
It was quite a show for the Buffs, who made the NCAAs for only the fourth time since 1969, and brought thousands of fans down I-25 to The Pit in Albuquerque to join in on the fun. When Booker hit a 3 with 10:30 left, the Buffs led 57-54, and it looked like the show might move onto Atlanta.
But Colorado scored only six points the rest of the way, worn down by the adrenaline-pumping run of the last two weeks, to say nothing of the athleticism of the Bears, a team that started the season 17-0 and rose to as high as third in The Associated Press poll. Colorado's winning streak ended at five.
"We're not going to make excuses. We got beat," Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. "But Brady Heslip was the difference in the game."
Acy finished with seven points and 10 boards, Miller had eight and five and Perry Jones III, considered NBA material, struggled inside and had only seven points and four boards.
The Bears won this matchup of one-time Big 12 foes -- a series that ended when CU moved out after last season, but presented a surprising encore in March 2012.
It was back-and-forth, entertaining basketball for 35 minutes. Make that 40 if you were in the Baylor camp. With another win, the Bears will be in the regional finals for the second time since 2010 -- after never winning three games in a single tournament before.