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Buffalo left no doubt.
The 13th-seeded Bulls routed fourth-seeded Arizona on Thursday at Taco Bell Arena in Boise, knocking off the heavily favored Wildcats 89-68 for the largest upset on the first day of the NCAA Tournament.
Buffalo shot a blistering 54.8 percent from the floor (34 for 62), including 50 percent (15 for 30) behind the 3-point line to earn the first NCAA Tournament win in program history.
“I felt like we had a shot,” Buffalo coach Nate Oats said. “I didn’t think we were going to win like that.”
Buffalo (27-8) advances to face fifth-seeded Kentucky (25-10) in the second round at 3:15 p.m. Mountain Time on Saturday in Boise.
Buffalo entered the second half with a 40-38 lead, then slowly pulled away from the Wildcats, stretching the lead to 25 points before emptying the bench with 1 minute, 11 seconds left. The Bulls made 9 of 14 3-pointers in the second half (64.3 percent) to knock off a team many picked to reach the Final Four.
“That’s pretty amazing,” Buffalo junior guard Jeremy Harris said. “I can’t even sit up here and lie. We did bust a lot of brackets.”
One of those brackets belonged to former U.S. President Barack Obama, who picked Arizona to reach the Sweet 16. Buffalo junior guard C.J. Massinburg saw that and addressed Obama after the game.
“President Obama, I’m sorry but I had to,” Massinburg said to a roomful of laughter.
Wes Clark added, “Should have chose the handsome guys.”
Arizona freshman Deandre Ayton entered the tournament as one of the premier players in the country and the projected No. 1 pick in June’s NBA Draft. But Buffalo’s smaller lineup swarmed and fronted the 7-foot-1 freshman, denying him entry passes and holding him to 14 points and 13 rebounds.
“He might not have had his A-game, but their pressure decimated us,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said.
Arizona’s loss ensures no Pac-12 or Pac-10 team reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1986. UCLA and Arizona State lost in the play-in round of the tournament earlier this week.
Oats initially dismayed Buffalo’s draw of Arizona, a team many experts claimed was underseeded due to the FBI investigation into the program. But as he studied more and more film, he and the rest of the Bulls quickly realized they could play with the No. 12 team in the country in the latest AP poll.
“With us being the MAC team, it’s easy to look at us as a team that can’t compete with a high major or a team that has four NBA prospects,” Clark said. “But we knew deep down … we can play with these guys.”
Clark led Buffalo with 25 points on 10-for-14 shooting and seven assists. Harris added 23 points and seven rebounds, and Massingburg finished with 19 points and seven rebounds as the Bulls outrebounded Arizona 32-31 despite a decided size deficit.