Is Colorado’s upset of UNLV redemption for the Pac-12? No. But they don’t care

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — No. 11 seed Colorado upsetting No. 6 seed UNLV on Thursday night in its NCAA opener at The Pit does not make up for an entire season of "meh" from the Pac-12.

But that's not what the upstart Buffs were out to do, anyway.

Atoning for the league's regular-season champ being left out of the field of 68 and Cal — the only other Pac-12 team to get a bid — getting blown off of the floor by South Florida in Dayton on Wednesday night was the furthest thing from their minds.

"We don't look at ourselves like the Pac-12 representers," senior guard Carlon Brown said following his team's surprising 68-64 triumph. "I'm sure the conference does and the commissioner does. We're really just playing for Colorado and our fans, and that's what we'll continue to do.

"If we happen to be the last — well, we are the last (Pac-12) team remaining — if we can carry that torch, we'll carry it. But it's not something we're focused on."

It should be the last thing on Colorado's mind, too, as the Buffs' run while playing with house money will continue for at least another 48 hours, when they face 3-seed Baylor on Saturday with a berth in the Sweet 16 on the line.

[Friday: Video: Can't-miss NCAA tournament games | Matchups ]

In a twisted way, though, it makes complete sense that a team that finished fifth in an abnormally down Pac-12 would be in this position. It's the perfect example of the oddities that March can bring.

A week ago, Tad Boyle's club wasn't even within sniffing distance of the NCAA tournament bubble.

Then came an ugly-yet-wonderful jaunt through four games in four days in Los Angeles, surprising everyone in claiming the league's automatic bid.

On Thursday night, Colorado showed what helped them make that run, but also what made them such an inconsistent entity throughout the regular season.

For 25 minutes, the Buffs shot the lights out, dominated the glass against an opponent with a decent size advantage and ran crisp, effective offense against a UNLV club that has struggled on the defensive end for the last month.

They led by 11 at the half, then behind a pair of dagger-like 3-pointers back-to-back from Austin Dufault, pushed the lead out to 20 points with 15 minutes remaining.

Then UNLV closed back to within two.

After displaying its attractive potential, the Buffs brought back memories of several blown leads that kept them from breaking through in Pac-12 play. They lost control on the glass, became panicked on offense and committed a bevy of turnovers, including several against the Rebels' full-court press.

But they squeezed enough offense through to get the job done, landing the program's first NCAA tournament win since 1997.

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Now, can they move on to the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history?

Well, given how both Colorado and Baylor performed on Thursday, you'd have to think the Buffs at least have a shot.

While Baylor had one of its inconsistent showings in getting by South Dakota State by eight points, Colorado looked like a young team finally finding its groove.

Freshman guards Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie were great complements to Brown on both ends of the floor, while sophomore forward Andre Roberson — a first team All-Pac-12 performer — won his individual matchup with UNLV star Mike Moser, scoring 12 points and grabbing 16 vital rebounds.

They'll also have the crowd on their side, too. While Baylor didn't travel too many fans, the Colorado faithful took over The Pit on Thursday. Much of that stemmed from the school offering its students a $50 package that included transportation from Boulder, tickets to the games and a hotel room. Several jumped at it.

But whether their showing this weekend in Albuquerque changes your opinion of the Pac-12? Well, the Buffs simply don't care.

Ryan Greene also covers UNLV and the Mountain West Conference for Follow him on Twitter at @ryanmgreene.

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