SAN JOSE, Calif. — As Cal players happily jogged off the floor at HP Pavilion following their 64-61 opening-round upset of fifth-seeded UNLV on Thursday night, the legions of Bears fans in attendance stood and applauded.
Fifty miles north at the Pac-12 office in Walnut Creek, the reaction was probably just as jubilant.
Cal's victory gave the oft-derided Pac-12 a perfect 3-0 record Thursday, matching or surpassing the league's total number of victories in two of the past three NCAA tournaments. In addition to the win by the Bears, 12th-seeded Oregon surprised Oklahoma State and sixth-seeded Arizona swatted away trendy upset pick Belmont.
[Related: Snubbed Oregon shows it's better than a 12 seed]
One impressive day in the round of 64 won't restore the Pac-12's battered basketball reputation, but it's certainly a sign of progress for a league that has seldom been relevant nationally the past four years. If either sixth-seeded UCLA ousts Minnesota or 10th-seeded Colorado defeats Illinois on Friday, the Pac-12 will have its most teams in the Round of 32 since 2009.
"The league needed a day like this," Cal forward David Kravish said. "I don't know why it needs it, but it seems that way. It's a really good conference. I don't know if it got the recognition going into the tournament, but I think the wins we've gotten as a league and hopefully will get in the future, that will really help."
The biggest reason for the Pac-12's battered basketball reputation is the conference simply hasn't earned the respect. When an exodus of NBA talent in 2008 and 2009 coincided with some uncharacteristically weak recruiting classes on the West Coast and coaching turnover at many Pac-12 schools, the league fell into a tailspin from which it is only just starting to emerge.
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