AUSTIN, Texas -- Tad Boyle hasn't finished the 2013-14 non-conference schedule and doesn't know if Andre Roberson will return next year or turn pro.
But Colorado's third-year head coach is confident about one thing regarding the program he is building:
"I don't know when, but we will be back," Boyle said.
As in another appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Despite a gritty comeback, 10th-seeded Colorado is headed back to Boulder after an agonizing 57-49 defeat to No. 7 Illinois in an East Regional round of 64 game at the Erwin Center.
In a maddening end to the season, the Buffs (21-12) trailed by 16 points at halftime, opened the second half with a 23-2 run to seize a five-point lead, and ultimately succumbed to the Illini (23-12) with their own scoring drought down the stretch.
"We're disappointed. Being one and done is not what we're interested in being in the NCAA Tournament," Boyle said. "But that's the reality now. We have to live with it for another year."
Askia Booker made three 3-pointers to jump-start CU's offensive explosion out of the halftime locker room.
Free throws by Jeremy Adams and Sabatino Chen cut the deficit to 39-38 with 11:04 still remaining.
Baskets by Josh Scott, Xavier Johnson and Roberson in the paint capped a stunning 21-0 surge that gave the Buffs a 44-39 lead with 9:28 left.
Spencer Dinwiddie watched some of the action next to Boyle on the sideline after being called for his fourth foul.
"Boyle basically just said with a team that lives by the three, you're going to have a shot to get back in it if you play with your principles and continue to just try to plug away," Dinwiddie said of the Buffs' halftime adjustments. "I was very confident in my team. They made the run while I was on the bench."
After missing its first 14 shots of the second half, the Illini finally got a sigh-of-relief field goal from Tracy Abrams with 8:34 remaining to break the ice for the favorites from the Big Ten.
D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul made back-to-back 3-pointers during a 9-0 answer that gave Illinois a 48-44 lead.
Those would be the only field goals of the half for Illinois, which held on despite shooting 13.6 percent (3-for-22) over the final 20 minutes.
"They were definitely on their heels. I think the 3-pointers gave them a little bit of confidence and kind of settled them down," Dinwiddie said. "They played a very good game. Our hat goes off to them. They hit more shots than we did and we didn't get the stops in the end."
Scott secured an offensive rebound and had the ball stripped away with a chance to close the deficit to two points in the final two minutes.
Illinois grabbed an offensive rebound on the other end after using up all 35 seconds of the shot clock. Paul was fouled and made a pair of free throws to make the score 52-46.
"That was critical," Boyle said of the sequence. "We didn't make the critical stops when we had to get them and we couldn't make a shot when we had to make a shot. The combination of that, you're not going to win a close game."
After a 3-pointer by Booker nearly banked in, Paul ripped down the rebound and made two more free throws to make it a three-possession game with just 52.6 seconds left.
Johnson made a 3-ball from NBA range to get the Buffs within 55-49 with 16.9 seconds left, but it was too late for a second dramatic comeback in the second half.
"It shows we have heart and we have a great group of kids here," Johnson said of CU's willingness to fight back against the Illini. "We're all special."
Illinois advances to face No. 2 Miami, an easy 78-49 winner over No. 15 Pacific in Friday's first game, on Sunday at the Erwin Center with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line.
"Maybe about as strange a game, in terms of the ebb and flow, that I've been associated with," said first-year Illini coach John Groce, who guided Ohio to the Sweet 16 last March. "It would be that way with this group. We have done it the hard way a lot this year."
CU trailed 37-21 at the intermission after missing its final 11 field goal attempts and allowing the Illini to make six 3-pointers.
Abrams' trey just before the buzzer capped a 26-6 Illinois run over the final 7:23.
CU got off to a strong start and led 15-11, but with Dinwiddie and Roberson catching their breath on the bench, Paul made his first 3-pointer of the game gave the Illini a 16-15 lead.
By the time Boyle's key perimeter defenders checked back in, the Buffs trailed 24-17 with 9:38 to play. Illinois scored 15 points off eight turnovers before the break.
"I think we can learn from it. I think it gives us some fire every time we go work out or lift," Scott said. "It's an experience that you learn from and you just improve upon. So that's what we're going to take from this going into next season."
The Buffs, who only have one senior (Chen) on the roster, could be a preseason top-25 team in the fall if Roberson decides to return for his senior season.
"Colorado basketball, the future of it is in great shape," Boyle said. "We've got a lot of good young players in our program. We've got a lot of good young players coming into our program. And we're going to be back here."
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Illinois 57, Colorado 49
FG FT Reb
Min M-A M-A O-T A PF PTS
Booker 34 5-14 0-0 1-3 0 3 14
Johnson 27 2-6 0-0 0-4 0 5 5
Roberson 34 4-10 1-2 0-8 2 5 9
Dinwiddie 25 1-8 4-5 0-2 4 4 6
Scott 33 4-9 2-2 6-14 0 0 10
Talton 3 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 0
Harris-Tunks 9 1-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 2
Chen 16 0-0 2-2 1-2 0 2 2
Adams 19 0-3 1-2 0-1 1 0 1
Totals 200 17-51 10-13 8-36 7 20 49
Percentages: FG .333, FT .769.
3-Point Goals: 5-19, .263 (Booker 4-10, Johnson 1-1, Roberson 0-1, Adams 0-2, Dinwiddie 0-5).
Team Rebounds: 2.
Blocked Shots: 5 (Scott 3, Roberson, Johnson).
Turnovers: 15 (Dinwiddie 4, Chen 3, Harris-Tunks 2, Roberson 2, Booker 2, Adams, Scott).
Steals: 5 (Roberson 2, Scott, Johnson, Chen).
Technical Fouls: None.
FG FT Reb
Min M-A M-A O-T A PF PTS
McLaurin 22 0-1 0-0 0-1 0 3 0
Richardson 37 5-14 0-2 0-5 1 0 14
Paul 31 3-12 9-10 0-4 2 3 17
Abrams 34 4-10 4-4 1-4 6 1 13
Egwu 33 3-6 1-2 4-8 0 1 7
Bertrand 17 0-2 1-2 0-3 0 2 1
Henry 1 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Griffey 25 1-6 2-4 3-6 1 2 5
Totals 200 16-52 17-24 11-37 10 12 57
Percentages: FG .308, FT .708.
3-Point Goals: 8-31, .258 (Richardson 4-11, Paul 2-8, Abrams 1-4, Griffey 1-5, Henry 0-1, Bertrand 0-2).
Team Rebounds: 6.
Blocked Shots: 4 (McLaurin 2, Egwu, Abrams).
Turnovers: 12 (Richardson 4, Paul 3, Abrams 3, Egwu, McLaurin).
Steals: 8 (Paul 3, Abrams 2, Griffey, Richardson, Bertrand).
Technical Fouls: None.
Colorado 21 28--49
Illinois 37 20--57
A -- 13,784.
Officials -- Doug Shows, Gary Maxwell, Joe Lindsay.