The fallout from a season where Pac-12 basketball was held in little esteem nationally has landed Cal in an NCAA tournament First Four game against South Florida on Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio.
"I feel like it is a little disrespectful. It shows you how they feel about the conference," Cal sophomore point guard Justin Cobbs said.
"We have to go in with a chip on our shoulder," added sophomore Allen Crabbe, "and prove we can compete with any team."
The Bears (24-9), who tied for second in the Pac-12 standings, fared better than Washington. After losing in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament, the Huskies became the first regular-season champion from a BCS conference in the modern era to be left out of the field.
Cal's players were wondering if that was their fate, too, as CBS unveiled the 68-team bracket Sunday. The first three regions were announced before Cal was chosen to play in one of the First Four games in the Midwest region.
"It was pretty tense," senior forward Harper Kamp said of the wait.
President Barack Obama plans to be in Dayton for games on Tuesday but will not be on hand to watch the Bears.
A victory over the Bulls (20-13) of the Big East Conference would give the Bears the No. 12 seed and send them to Nashville, Tenn., for a Friday game against fifth-seeded Temple (24-7).
If they keep winning, it's possible the Bears could play three games in five days in the opening week of the
"We're in -- that's all that matters," Kamp said. "We have the chance to play some more games."
Coach Mike Montgomery and his staff watched game tapes of South Florida on Sunday night, and the Bears expect to travel to Dayton on Monday afternoon.
But the quick turnaround isn't ideal. Eleven of Montgomery's past 12 NCAA teams -- 10 of those at Stanford -- won first-round games in part because of strong preparation.
"One of the things we've done best was figure out what we can do to give people problems," he said. "This puts a little less of that in play."
But the Bears say they are determined to make sure their stay in the tournament does not end before the main draw begins play on Thursday.
"You don't just want to go and lose in the play-in game or the first round," said Crabbe, a first-team All-Pac-12 selection. "You want to go and actually make some noise, show that we're there for a reason."
To make that happen, the Bears understand they will have to play better than they did down the stretch, when they lost three of their past four games. That slide dropped them into the First Four game and made them the No. 45 overall seed, according to the selection committee.
"Offensively, we've gotten a little stagnant," Kamp said. "We've lost the confidence we've had the entire year. We've really got nothing to lose now."
"We've got to have our key players ready to perform," Montgomery said. "Energy is part of it."
And Montgomery is concerned that his club's lack of depth has left the Bears fatigued. "I don't think there's any question," he said.
While Cal and Pac-12 tournament winner Colorado are the league's only two NCAA entries, South Florida is among nine teams that made it from the Big East.
The Bulls are coached by Stan Heath, who played basketball at Eastern Michigan under former Cal coach Ben Braun. USF leads the Big East in scoring defense, allowing just 56.9 points per game, and ranks last in offense at 59.2 points.
No USF player averages in double figures, but seven score from 6.8 to 9.6 points per game.
Cal is making its third NCAA appearance in four seasons under Montgomery, whose final 10 teams at Stanford played in the tournament.