Six days before Thanksgiving, Colorado accomplished something no Pac-12 team did during last year's regular season: It defeated a ranked team.
A 60-58 win over No. 16 Baylor validates Colorado as a worthy challenger to Arizona and UCLA in the Pac-12 race and boosts the credibility of a league that has taken its share of well-deserved abuse in recent years. The Pac-12 landed only two NCAA tournament bids last March and failed to get regular season champion Washington into the field 0f 68, an embarrassing outcome caused by the league's inept performance in non-conference play.
It's too early to declare the league vastly improved but early returns are promising based on results from the first week of the season. The Pac-12 is collectively 24-2, though Colorado's victory over Baylor is by far the most noteworthy win the league has notched and Washington's loss to Albany is certainly an eyesore.
If this year ends up being a Pac-12 resurgence, Colorado may turn out to be one of the leaders.
The Buffs lost forward Austin Dufault and guards Carlon Brown and Nate Tomlinson off last year's 24-win team that won the Pac-12 tournament, but they appear to be even better this season.
Forward Andre Roberson is a menace on the glass, sophomore guards Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie are developing rapidly as scorers and freshmen Xavier Johnson and Josh Scott have shown the talent and savvy to contribute immediately. Colorado lacks depth off the bench at any position, yet it defends as well as any team out West thanks to the combination of length and quickness guys like Roberson and Dinwiddie.
That defense was on display Friday against a Baylor team that had lit up Lehigh for 99 points and Boston College for 84 in previous blowout victories. The Bears couldn't even crack 60 against Colorado as the Buffs limited them to 32.8 percent shooting and 3 of 19 from behind the arc, avenging their round of 32 NCAA tournament loss to Baylor last March.
Had Colorado not shot free throws like the game was played on the deck of an wind-blown aircraft carrier, the Buffs probably wouldn't have needed to survive a pair of potential game-tying shots in the final seconds. Colorado went 4 of 19 from the free throw line and 1 of 6 in the final 61 seconds, but Baylor's A.J. Walton missed an ill-advised heavily contested runner with four seconds left and Isaiah Austin clanked a Christian Laettner-esque turnaround jumper off the rim at the buzzer.
When the clock read 0:00, the celebration began in numerous different places.
Colorado players raised their arms in victory on the floor in Charleston. Buffs fans back in Boulder surely appreciated a brief respite from a miserable football season. And in the Pac-12 offices in Northern California, there were surely a few smiles at a victory that serves as a first step toward restoring the league's beleaguered basketball reputation.