LOS ANGELES -- It was a tight squeeze.
But the glass slipper fits.
Colorado's improbable run to the NCAA Tournament was completed with a classic 53-51 victory over Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament championship on Saturday at the Staples Center.
After a late Buffs turnover and a pair of missed free throws by Austin Dufault, the Wildcats' Kyle Fogg's game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer missed.
CU's Cinderella March story will continue next week with the program's first NCAA Tournament appearance in nine
"When (Fogg) put the shot up, I couldn't see where his feet were. I looked straight at the ref and saw his hand go up for the three," Shane Harris-Tunks said of the helpless feeling of watching the final possession from the bench. "And then the ball was in the air for about 20 minutes. When it came down it was one of the best moments ever."
Moments later, second-year CU head coach Tad Boyle was holding the championship trophy and the Buffs were cutting down the nets for the first time since the program's Big Eight regular-season title in 1968-69.
"If you believe in destiny, you believe in the Colorado Buffaloes," an emotional Boyle said. "Because it was meant to be for us."
Carlon Brown, the tournament's most valuable player, soared through the air as if the senior guard were shot out of a cannon to give the Buffs a 53-47 lead on a thunderous dunk with 52.6 seconds remaining.
And then it felt like midnight was going to strike before the sixth-seeded conference newcomers could punch their ticket to the Big Dance.
After Fogg made a pair off free throws, CU senior point guard Nate Tomlinson's routine pass on the next possession went through Dufault's legs and out of bounds.
A Solomon Hill basket on the other end cut the Arizona deficit to two points, setting up the last-second drama.
"I just think once again it was kind of fitting," Dufault said of finishing the game on defense. "It would have been nice if we could end the game a little bit smoother, if I could have knocked down a couple free throws or caught that pass. ...
"Once again, we just dug in defensively and got the stop."
What went right
Carlon Brown locked up Pac-12 Tournament MVP honors with 13 points and what turned out to be the game-winning slam dunk.
What went wrong
The Buffs tried to squander a 12-point lead down the stretch with miscues and missed free throws, which allowed Kyle Fogg to attempt what would have been a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Star of the game
Brown was clutch again, but freshmen guard Spencer Dinwiddie set the tone early and finished with 14 points and went 4-for-4 from behind the arc.
Colorado will be included in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in nine years when the 68-team bracket is released Sunday.
Defense got the Buffs started on Wednesday in the opening round with a 53-41 victory over Utah.
Tomlinson's defense on Devoe Joseph's buzzer-beater was the difference in Thursday's 72-71 quarterfinal win over Oregon.
And holding Cal to 38.5 percent in the second half allowed Boyle's team to pull away from the Bears in the 70-59 semifinal triumph.
"I can make the argument that there's been no greater gift to college basketball in the Pac-12 than adding Colorado," Arizona head coach Sean Miller said. "They are well-coached, they play extremely hard and very good on defense. ...
"I wish them the very best in the NCAA Tournament. Whoever draws them is running into a hungry, well-coached, disciplined team."
Andre Roberson had another double-double (10 points, 11 rebounds) for the Buffs. The sophomore forward shot 66.7 percent from the field during the tournament and set the CU single-season rebounding record along the way.
The Buffs (23-11), who were the first team to win three games to get to the championship game in the expanded conference, out-rebounded the Wildcats (23-11) 37-29.
Dufault had seven rebounds and Harris-Tunks added six in 14 minutes off the bench.
"I know when Austin comes off and I go on the floor that he has all the confidence in me that I have in him," Harris-Tunks said.
It was CU's first appearance in a conference title game since the Buffs lost 92-80 to Oklahoma in the Big Eight championship on March 11, 1990, in Kansas City, Mo.
CU came out with a lot of energy in the second half and took a 38-32 lead on a transition layup by Tomlinson.
After a 3-pointer by Roberson -- his 11th consecutive made field goal dating back to the game-winner against Oregon -- and free throws by Jeremy Adams and Dufault gave the Buffs a 44-33 lead with 14:20 remaining.
A 3-ball from the corner by Spencer Dinwiddie and a put-back by Dufault extended CU's advantage to 50-38 with just over nine minutes left on the clock.
It felt like 90 minutes to Boyle.
Men's Pac-12 Tournament
No. 9 Oregon State 69, No. 8 Washington State 64
No. 5 UCLA 55, No. 12 USC 40
No. 7 Stanford 85, No. 10 Arizona State 65
No. 9 Oregon St. 86, No. 1 Washington 84
No. 4 Arizona 66, No. 5 UCLA 58
No. 2 California 77, No. 7 Stanford 71
No. 4 Arizona 72, No. 9 Oregon State 61
The Buffs didn't score again for seven minutes and 48 seconds, which allowed the Wildcats to pull within five points in the final minutes.
CU air-balled three 3-pointers and missed several point-blank chances as the tension mounted.
With 1:23 on the clock, Roberson drew a foul on a strong take to the hoop and went 1-for-2 at the line to make it a six-point game.
Jesse Perry made his pressure tosses on the other end to make the score 51-47 with 61 seconds left.
"We didn't finish very strong," Boyle said. "We didn't execute offensively real good down the stretch, except for Carlon's dunk. ... But you rely on your defense, you rely on your rebounding. We beat this Arizona team in Boulder the same way, with a stop.
"It shouldn't have been that close, but our guys did what they had to do."
The Buffs led 30-28 at the intermission after holding Arizona to 37 percent shooting and winning the rebounding battle 21-15 through 20 minutes.
Dinwiddie knocked down a couple of deep 3-pointers to help stake CU to a 10-5 lead at the first media timeout.
Tomlinson picked up his second foul 6:27 into the game and the Wildcats went on a 17-9 run.
During a timeout, Brown scolded his teammates for getting upset with some of the early calls that went against them.
"We don't have time for excuses today," Brown said. "This is our season."
Dinwiddie beat the shot clock with another deep ball and a steal and slam by Roberson extended the lead to 19-14.
The Wildcats answered with an 8-0 run capped with a Fogg 3-pointer.
After Roberson picked up a second ticky-tack foul, Boyle inserted four guards into the game and told them to drive to the rim.
Brown was promptly fouled and knocked down two free throws to give his team the momentum back. A basket by Adams in the paint gave CU the two-point cushion at halftime.
The teams split the two regular-season meetings with the Buffs winning 64-63 in Boulder on Jan. 21 and losing 71-57 in Tucson on Feb. 9.
With an automatic NCAA Tournament berth at stake in the rubber match, CU ended up being the team of destiny.
The Buffs will find out who and where they will play in the first round during the selection show at 4 p.m. on CBS.
"Bring on it," Tomlinson said. "We're ready for anyone."