Colorado's Nate Tomlinson, right, and Carlon Brown celebrate the… (Jae C. Hong / Associated…)
The Pac-12 Conference might be treated like some run-of-the-mill mid-major by the NCAA tournament selection committee Sunday, with the possibility that even regular-season champion Washington will be left out.
But that organized chaos Colorado calls a basketball team grabbed the only guarantee the conference has this season by winning the Pacific Life Pac-12 Conference tournament Saturday.
The 53-51 victory over Arizona at Staples Center was the type of arm-flailing 40 minutes that the Buffaloes seem to embrace.
"Sometimes it looks that way," guard Carlon Brown said. "Sometimes guys don't know what they are doing or where they are going."
But, Brown said, "we have confidence in our abilities."
The tournament, which could shift to Las Vegas next year, went through some listless moments this week, where the only electricity in the building was the stuff keeping the lights on.
But the Buffaloes, with fans chanting "we don't need no altitude" Saturday, brought some life to the party. There was the last-second win over Oregon on Thursday and Brown's windmill dunk to close out a victory over California on Friday.
That audacity and tenacity were on display with Colorado leading, 50-43, with five minutes to play.
Nurse that lead? The Buffaloes (23-11) flung three-point shots on four consecutive possessions, with three missing the rim.
"I think those were shot-clock situations," Brown said.
Two came with 18 seconds left on the shot clock.
"We didn't execute well down the stretch," Coach Tad Boyle said.
There were perks to that impulsive behavior: Brown's tomahawk dunk with 50 seconds left — and 24 left on the shot clock — for a 53-47 lead, and the Buffaloes swarm-to-the-ball choice in the last 14 seconds, which denied Arizona's Kyle Fogg a clear look and forced his off-balance heave at the buzzer.
That meant Arizona (23-11) was denied its only path to the NCAA tournament.
"To come this close and not get there really hurts," Arizona Coach Sean Miller said.
The Buffaloes can feel his pain. A year ago, Colorado, with 21 victories, was passed over by the selection committee. This time, the Buffaloes took the decision out of the back room by winning four games in four days for their first NCAA appearances since 2003.
Disappointment awaits others.
Even Washington, which lost in the quarterfinals Thursday, is a bubble team. The conference's regular-season champion has gone to the NCAA tournament every season since 1943-44 … when a 26-6 Washington team was denied.
Arizona, California, Oregon and Stanford all won 20 games. But you can spell that NIT (Not In Tournament) for most of them.
"I do believe we will be playing in the postseason somewhere," Washington Coach Lorenzo Romar said Thursday. "I'm just not sure where and what tournament it's going to be."
The Buffaloes at least know their tournament. They never gave Arizona much of a chance to take that away.
The Wildcats were nine for 18 on three-pointers in beating Oregon State on Friday. They were five of 19 against Colorado, and shot only 36.7% from the field overall.
The Buffaloes seized control with an 18-6 run for a 48-36 lead midway through the second half, then did their sweating during the final minutes.
"There is nothing like winning the championship, cutting down the nets and getting free gear," said Brown, who was wearing a Pac-12 tournament championship cap and shirt. "We weren't going to be denied."