California, Washington only Pac-10 teams in NCAAs

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.