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Dustin Monke / Forum Communications Co., Published March 13 2012

NCAA tournament bid makes it all worth it for Killdeer's Dufault

DICKINSON, N.D. – The CBS cameras captured the moment beautifully.

There was Austin Dufault, on his knees and face down on the Staples Center court in front of a live national television audience, silently relishing the moment of March Madness following Colorado’s Pac-12 men’s basketball championship game victory over Arizona last Saturday.

“Finally,” was the only word that came to his mind.

Finally, there was relief. Finally, he could hold his head high without regret. Finally, he and the Colorado men’s basketball team had a date to the Big Dance.

“It’s incredible,” said Dufault, a 2008 Killdeer High School graduate. “It’s been a long four years of hard work to finally get to this situation. It’s all kind of paid off in the last week.”

The journey to the NCAA tournament has been arduous for the 6-foot-9, 225-pound senior forward.

But the best is yet to come.

Dufault, who holds Colorado’s school record for most games played, leads the 11th-seeded Buffs (23-11) into their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2003 when they play No. 23-ranked and sixth-seeded UNLV (26-8) at 8:57 p.m. Thursday in the second round of the South Regional at The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M.

Because the Buffs needed to win the Pac-12 tournament just to receive a bid to the national tournament, UNLV is heavily favored.

Dufault said his team is just fine with that.

“Nobody really expects much of us again,” Dufault said. “Everyone is talking about how it’s a good matchup, but they expect UNLV to win. We’re coming in as underdogs like we have the whole year. I think we kind of thrive in that role, being the team that nobody thinks will do much. If we stick to our identity and what we do well, we’ll give ourselves a great chance to win.”

Dufault said reaching the national tournament is the perfect way to cap his senior season. He is averaging career highs of 10.9 points and 4.5 rebounds per game and recently reached milestones for points (1,048) and rebounds (504).

“This year, it’s all just come together,” Dufault said. “That’s not to say there wasn’t any struggles along the way this year at all, or that there wasn’t any high moments in the past either. I’ve had a lot of fun the four years I’ve been playing here. This year has been something really special just to see the big goals you set as a player finally be realized. You’re building every year for four years, going through the process to get to this point.”

On Nov. 15, 2007, Dufault sat in the Killdeer school and signed his letter of intent to play for Colorado.

He admits there were times over the next two years when he wondered if he had made the right decision.

“I’d lie if I said that I didn’t,” Dufault said. “Going through all the ups and downs, it’s difficult. There’s always doubt that creeps into your mind. What if I would have done this or that?”

Dufault played above expectations as a freshman, averaging 8.2 points and 3.7 rebounds a game as he transitioned from a shooting guard – the position that helped him gain attention on the national recruiting stage between his junior and senior years of high school – to that of a post player and Colorado’s big man.

That season, however, the Buffs lost a school-record 22 games and had just nine wins playing in front of often miniscule home crowds.

Back in his native state, North Dakota State – one of the final schools to be crossed off on Dufault’s list of potential destinations – thrived and reached the NCAA tournament for the first time.

Dufault said his parents, Rich and Karen, moving the family from Killdeer to Greeley, Colo., helped him through the difficult times.

“I know that I definitely couldn’t have done it without them being out here and supporting me, just through the highs and the lows,” Austin Dufault said. “Them being out here, being able to see their faces after games, has been incredible. I don’t know if I’d have stayed out here for all four years if not for them being here with me and them always being encouraging and having them here to support me.”

Rich Dufault, who was the longtime boys basketball coach at Killdeer, said the decision to move was difficult, but it has worked out better than he ever hoped.

He and Karen now teach in the Greeley area and attended all of their son’s home games in Boulder, Colo., plus several more on the road.

“We would never have traded it. It’s been a great experience,” Rich Dufault said. “We’ve been from Maui to Manhattan. We’ve been across the whole landscape of the country watching and have enjoyed the ride. It’s been quite an experience.”

Monke is the sports editor of The Dickinson Press