California, Washington only Pac-10 teams in NCAAsPosted: Updated:
California and Washington were the only Pac-10 teams to get bids in the NCAA tournament on Sunday, capping a decidedly down season for a league that sent six teams to the postseason's biggest bash each of the last two years.
The league's automatic berth went to Washington (24-9), which beat California (23-10) in the conference tournament after finishing second in the regular season. The Golden Bears got in on the strength of winning their first regular-season title in 50 years.
Teams like 11-time national champion UCLA and Arizona, which had made 25 straight NCAA tourney appearances, are staying home. Southern California never had a chance, having declared itself ineligible for postseason play as part of self-imposed sanctions for violating NCAA rules involving former star O.J. Mayo.
So Washington will travel to San Jose, Calif., on Thursday for a first-round game against Marquette (22-11), while Cal got sent across the country to Jacksonville, Fla., to play Louisville (20-12) the same day.
The Pac-10 was among the nation's elite leagues in recent years, but that changed this season when a combination of early departures to the NBA draft, new coaches and a lack of stars weakened its stature.
The league had a team in the final AP Top 25 rankings every season since 1986 until this year. It flopped during the nonconference season, going 2-12 against ranked opponents with several ugly losses.
"Some of the losses that we got early on in the league, everybody just hurt the perception," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. "So then when that became the perception, there was no way we could beat anybody in the league and have it help anybody. And if we lost a game in the league, it was only going to hurt the perception."
During the second half of the season, the league fought the suggestion that only one of its teams would get in the NCAAs. The Pac-10 has never drawn fewer than two bids since the tourney expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
"I don't think it was very fair at all," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. "Once a statement is made publicly sometimes, it gains a lot of momentum and begins to snowball."
Of course, the Pac-10 plays its games when much of the rest of the country is already asleep. None of the teams finished the season ranked among the top 20 in the RPI, either.
Like some mid-majors, Pac-10 schools are given little credit for beating each other and their middling performance outside the league didn't help.
"The Pac-10 is always blue-collar, good-play basketball and everybody gets after it," Washington's Darnell Gant said. "And the Pac-10 is a good conference whether there's a lot of lottery picks or not."
Romar believed the Huskies had already done enough to ensure a berth, but he knows winning the Pac-10 tourney title didn't hurt.
"I've watched Selection Sunday many years and seen teams with great resumes that are denied on that day," he said. "So thank goodness that these guys made it happen and left no doubt.
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