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California's David Kravish, left, playfully hugs teammate Allen Crabbe at a press conference at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, Calif., Sunday, March 11, 2012, after the NCAA tournament bids were announced, slating the Golden Bears to play South Florida in a play-in game Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio. (D. Ross Cameron/Staff)

Mike Montgomery sat before the cameras Sunday and casually turned his conflicting convictions and mixed emotions into a veneer of sheer relief and unapologetic delight.

Maybe the Cal coach was grinning at the irony in the moment.

He also may have been smiling about nabbing the prize that seems to matter most in terms of legacy, job security and salary requirement.

Montgomery, 65 and nearing the end of his coaching road, knows his beliefs as well as anyone who's ever held a clipboard. At least two of them have not wavered over his 22 years coaching college basketball in the Bay Area.

No. 1 is there should be no conference tournaments, ever, anywhere.

No. 2 is the regular-season conference champion -- no matter the outcome of the conference tournament in which his team is forced to play -- deserves the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

"I value (the regular season) very highly,'' Montgomery said, "because it's the same for everybody. If we win it, we think that's probably enough.

"Now? I don't know. After this, probably not.''

Evidently not, as Washington won the Pac-12 regular-season title but did not receive an NCAA tournament bid. It was the first time ever that the regular-season winner of one of the six so-called power conferences was snubbed.

Colorado, which finished sixth in the 18-game conference season, won the Pac-12 tournament over the weekend to swipe the automatic bid.

Meanwhile, Montgomery's Golden Bears, who in conference season finished second to the Huskies, then lost to Colorado in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals, slipped into the NCAAs as one of the last four teams invited by the selection committee.

And, no, Montgomery is not the least bit willing to offer his team's invitation -- to meet South Florida in a first-round game for a No. 12 seed -- to the Huskies, simply because, in his mind, they did enough during the regular season to join the party.

"I think they should have made it, too,'' Montgomery said.

Montgomery imagined the committee members in a conference room, agonizing over those precious final selections to their highly coveted tournament. In what arguably has been the Pac-12's (or Pac-10's) least impressive overall season, the Buffaloes' automatic bid earned them only a No. 11 seed.

"They probably figured to take no more than two,'' Montgomery said, "and may have been sitting there trying to decide. Is it Washington or Cal? Is it Cal or Washington? Our RPI was higher, so that had to help us.

"For Cal, what they did was great. But it cost Washington.''

If it's not quite that simple, it's pretty close. Cal's placement in a first-round game confirms its status as one of the final four teams invited, while Washington was among the last to be trimmed from the prospective field.

The consensus, however, is that the Bears submitted a more impressive résumé than the Huskies. Cal indeed had a higher RPI and played a stronger schedule. It also went one game deeper in the conference tournament, as Washington lost in its first appearance -- and lost its final regular-season game to a reeling UCLA squad.

The result is the 68-team NCAA tournament field has only two Pac-12 schools, seeded 11th and 12th. It's an embarrassing showing, for sure. It's outright disrespect, on a national level, and the conference has no ammo with which to respond.

In short, the Pac-12 is getting no more than it has earned.

"We have to do a better job in November and December,'' Montgomery said, referring to beefing up nonconference schedules.

Knowing Montgomery's convictions about regular-season conference championships, and knowing he was the recipient of an at-large bid, perhaps at the expense of the conference champ, I couldn't resist the tricky question.

Are you able to take the long view of this? Ten years from now, which would you rather have on your 2012 record: A Pac-12 championship or an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament?

"It's inconceivable to me that you should have to choose,'' he added. "But I guess I'm wrong.''

The unspoken answer, though, is the NCAA bid. He'll take the big tournament bid any year of his life. That's the means by which big-time coaches are measured. It influences their pay scale. It's how they are defined.

It's why Montgomery is happier than Washington's Lorenzo Romar, who gets the NIT.

The Cal coach had effectively been told his long-held belief in this matter carries no weight with the selection committee, yet he couldn't be more pleased to be on the losing end of this philosophical debate.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com.