JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- We take it all back, Pac-10.
Sure, all year we held our noses while looking at your standings. Maybe we scoffed at your lack of marquee wins or ranked teams. We said some things we regret, like you were one of the worst major leagues in recent memory and that you only deserved one NCAA Tournament bid this year.
Clearly, you must still know how to play a little basketball. Washington knocked off Marquette on Thursday, and then here in Jacksonville on Friday night, California stomped Louisville 77-62. That's Marquette and Louisville from the Big East, supposedly the king of all conferences. Before this week, the Pac-10 had scored only one first-round win over the Big East in NCAA tournament play since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
So go ahead. Crow a little bit.
"I've been listening to a lot of things that have been said about the Pac-10, and honestly I feel like we have great players and great teams," Cal senior guard Jerome Randle said. "Just because we didn't have any Top 25 teams, people were trashing our league. But we were competitive every night. Luckily, Cal and Washington got in, and we were able to send a message in the first round."
Some had wondered if the Bears even deserved to make the field. Despite winning the Pac-10 regular season title and boasting a high RPI, they didn't have any great wins this season. They felt they had something to prove as a No. 8 seed.
"No matter what people were saying about the league, we still felt like it was a tremendous accomplishment to win the conference," forward Theo Robertson said. "We wanted to come out here and show the nation, really, that we're a good basketball team."
It didn't take Louisville long to find that out. The Bears opened with a blitzkrieg, scoring the game's first 12 points and racing out to leads of 22-4 and 30-12.
"I was a little upset that Obama didn't put us in his bracketology," Randle joked, referring to the president's own Pac-10 doubting picks. "So I just wanted to come out strong."
What Cal lacked in big bodies and physical play -- a strength of the purportedly superior Big East -- it more than made up for with speed and shooting. When the Cardinals tried to press, Randle zipped right by them. When Louisville made two serious runs to get within striking distance, Randle, Robertson and Patrick Christopher made key shots to keep the lead afloat.
"Just bang, bang, bang," coach Mike Montgomery said. "We shot the ball and probably caught them off guard, which we do occasionally."
Montgomery doesn't have a deep team, and his bench was shorter than normal after the suspension of starting forward Omondi Amoke. Randle played all 40 minutes, while Robertson and Christopher logged 38 minutes each against Louisville's constant full-court pressure defense. Yet it was Cal that ended the game on a 12-2 run over the final six minutes.
The small rotation and lack of size figures to be a factor against top-seeded Duke on Sunday. But the Bears are still carrying the Pac-10 banner.
"Now we want to prove to people that we are capable of wining more than one game," Randle said.
We promise not to doubt you anymore, Pac-10. Can we be friends again?