NEW YORK -- Win a championship.
That was the goal Cory Higgins, Levi Knutson and the rest of the senior class brought with them to the gym when practices with a new coaching staff began back in October.
The Buffs finished fifth in the Big 12, lost in the semifinals of the conference tournament and had the NCAA Tournament door slammed in their faces by the selection committee.
But after regrouping with three impressive postseason wins in Boulder, CU can still realize the preseason dream by bringing home a National Invitation Tournament championship with 80 minutes of good basketball here at Madison Square Garden.
The Buffs (24-13) -- who have already set a new program standard for victories in a season -- play an equally determined Alabama squad in the semifinals on Tuesday (7 p.m., ESPN2).
The winner advances to play the Washington State-Wichita State winner from the other semifinal.
First-year CU head coach Tad Boyle credits the seniors for embracing him and not losing focus after Jeff Bzdelik left for Wake Forest before the rebuilding project was completed.
"We always had doubts. One thing we knew though as a team is that we were talented," senior Marcus Relphorde recalled of the regime change last spring. "No matter who came in and coached us, we had the talent. I feel like if we didn't win it was going to be a disappointment.
"Coach Boyle has come in and done the necessary things to get a lot out of our talent. We've done some good things this year."
So has the Crimson Tide (24-11), winner of the SEC's West Division and 19 of its last 24 games.
Anthony Grant has racked up 41 wins in his first two seasons at Alabama. He was previously the head coach at VCU and recruited most of the players headed to the NCAA Tournament Final Four in Houston.
"I look at it as we've got to beat Alabama. I don't look like it as a tournament," Boyle said of CU's focus in the Big Apple. "We've got an opportunity to play Alabama on a neutral floor in a great, great city and on a pretty big stage. To me it's a one-game tournament and not a four-team tournament. You've got to win to advance."
Alabama beat Georgia twice. The Bulldogs -- who defeated CU 83-74 back on Nov. 16 -- were still selected for an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament over the Crimson Tide.
"Our group is extremely humbled and excited to have the opportunity to be here in New York," Grant said. "And obviously we played some very good competition so we've earned the right to be here, as have all the teams that are represented here."
The Buffs also felt shunned after watching Kansas State and Missouri -- conference rivals CU went 4-1 against in the Big 12 -- get invited to the Big Dance.
Playing for a championship at Madison Square Garden while all those other teams, including Kansas, watch on television will help heal those wounds.
At least for the winner.
"Everybody wants to play in the Garden. You grow up wanting to play in the Garden," CU star sophomore Alec Burks said. "It's great to play there with this team against a great Alabama team. ... You have to play like it's any other gym, but you know in the back of your mind it's the best gym in the country. You've got to put that aside for the game."
The Buffs are hoping to win the NIT for the first time since 1940. CU was the runner-up in the inaugural tournament in 1938 and finished third at Madison Square Garden in 1991.
Over the decades, not many coaches or players have had an opportunity to be a part of a banner-hanging season in Boulder.
"You never know what life is going to throw at you and three weeks ago, two-and-a-half weeks ago, we were thrown a little curve ball," Boyle said during a press conference on Monday at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square. "And we hit it because our guys have responded the right way. They have not whined about it, cried about it, we're not going to do that.
"We were happy to be invited to the NIT, we've happy to be here and we want to relish this opportunity as best we can."