If Cal's four senior starters want to add to their legacy, they'll get the chance to do it against some of college basketball's royalty.
The eighth-seeded Golden Bears drew Louisville and coach Rick Pitino for their first-round NCAA Tournament South Regional game on Friday in Jacksonville, Fla.
A victory by Cal (23-10) against the Cardinals (20-12) would set up a likely Sunday battle with top-seeded Duke (29-5) and coaching icon Mike Krzyzewski.
"Those two programs, if you look at the history of college basketball, show up pretty nicely," Cal coach Mike Montgomery acknowledged.
That's just fine with the Golden Bears, who have carved a niche in Cal basketball history by winning the program's first regular-season Pac-10 title in 50 years. The players said that they have no complaints about their seeding or destination but are excited about the opportunity to face the sport's heavyweights.
"Their legacies have been established," senior Patrick Christopher said of Louisville and Duke. "That's something we're trying to do here at Cal, making a name for ourselves. I think it's a great time to do that. The time is now."
Louisville, which tied for fifth in the Big East Conference, owns two victories over the Syracuse team that beat Cal by 22 points at Madison Square Garden.
"That doesn't bother me at all," said senior Jerome Randle, the Pac-10 Player of the Year. "We'll be ready to play, that's all I know.
"We worked hard to build up to this point, to play these top-ranked teams."
While the Bears are making their 22nd NCAA Tournament appearance, their one NCAA crown came 50 years ago. Louisville won titles in 1980 and '86 under Denny Crum, and Pitino guided Kentucky to three Final Fours in a five-year span, winning a championship in 1996. His NCAA Tournament record: 38-13.
Krzyzewski has led Duke to three national titles and is 71-22 in NCAA Tournament play.
Asked what he thinks about landing in a bracket with Pitino and Coach K, the Cal coach said, "Think they're asking about what they feel to be in a bracket with Montgomery?"
The Bears missed the chance to secure the Pac-10's automatic NCAA bid — and perhaps a game closer to home — when they lost to Washington in Saturday's conference tournament final.
Although there was little doubt they would be included in the 65-team field, suspense grew when they weren't announced in any of the first three 16-team regions.
Before CBS finally unveiled the team's spot, Randle said he had to step out of the team room a couple times to calm himself.
Added Christopher, "The suspense was killing me, but I think that's the best part about it. To be called in the last bracket, that's exciting."
Senior forward Jamal Boykin believes the club's tough pre-conference schedule — including losses to No. 1 seeds Syracuse and Kansas, No. 2 seed Ohio State and No. 3 New Mexico — prepared the Bears for this week.
"We know what it looks like, as far as playing the big-time teams," he said. "We're not intimidated. We're confident in our abilities and we're excited for the challenge."
Louisville certainly will provide a challenge. Pitino's teams are athletic and aggressive, as Stanford could attest to after its 78-58 loss in the 2007 NCAA opener. Louisville coaxed 21 turnovers from a Stanford team featuring Brook and Robin Lopez.
This Louisville team, which relies heavily on 3-point shooting, forced seven different opponents into at least 20 turnovers.
Montgomery, who planned to begin watching video Sunday night, agreed with Boykin that the Bears won't be caught off-guard by the level of competition they're about to face.
"I do know we were up six (points at New Mexico) with four minutes to go with about a half a team," he said, alluding to the absence of injured starter Theo Robertson and a flu bug that ran through the team in December.
"So you know you're capable of playing at a high level."
At Jacksonville, Fla.
A closer look at Louisville. Page 4