The Cal women’s basketball team knew it was a shoo-in for the NCAA tournament. The Bears didn’t let that spoil their party.
Inside Pappy’s Bar and Grill, where Cal hosted a selection show viewing party on Monday afternoon, there was a buzz of excitement in the air. The players and coaches were huddled next to the giant television screen, anxiously waiting to hear their team’s name.
The crowd hushed in anticipation as the Raleigh region was revealed. When Cal was picked as the No. 8 seed, the crowd erupted in joy.
“There’s no feeling like it,” said coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “It’s a jubilation unlike anything in sports.”
The Bears will play their first March Madness game since 2009 against ninth-seeded Iowa on Sunday at 9 a.m. in Notre Dame, Ind. The winner will likely play against top-seeded Notre Dame in its Purcell Pavilion home court next Tuesday.
The eighth and ninth seeds have the most brutal path in the tournament, as the victor faces the top seed in the region in the next round. The seven and 10 seeds, in comparison, have a better chance of extending their tournament runs.
But for the players, the math inside the brackets are all too foreign.
“I don’t even know how all that works,” said center Talia Caldwell. “I’m just happy we are there, and we are going to stay there for a while.”
For every player on the roster, this year’s trip to the Big Dance is a maiden voyage. With no seniors on the team, the Bears have no postseason experience other than their last two trips to the WNIT.
The Hawkeyes, on the other hand, have troves of March Madness experience under their belts. As a team with four seniors, Iowa (19-11) heads to its fifth consecutive NCAA tournament.
Although Cal has played Big Ten teams like Illinois and Ohio State this season, the Bears knew very little about the Hawkeyes on Monday.
“I’ll probably know a lot more about Iowa tomorrow,” Caldwell said.
Cal finished second in both the regular season and Pac-12 tournament behind No. 2 Stanford. In the beginning of the season under first year coach Gottlieb, the Bears were actually projected to finish in the middle of the conference.
But Gottlieb and her players proved the critics wrong from the start and quickly racked up an 11-4 nonconference record. The Bears continued the strong performance into the Pac-12 season, clinching second place in the Pac-12 with a week to spare.
In the Pac-12 tournament, Cal won its first two games against Colorado and Washington State in sloppy fashion. In the title game against the Cardinal, the Bears fell behind early and were unable to wage the comeback they made in their first tilt with Stanford at Maples Pavilion in January.
Cal heads into the NCAA tournament with a solid post rotation and improved guard play from freshman Brittany Boyd. With a deep bench that has kept the entire team fresh, the Bears have been able to maintain their fast-paced basketball throughout the entire season.
Now with the March Madness on the horizon, the Bears have a healthy squad that can grind out most teams in the nation to exhaustion.
The experts have taken notice of Cal’s potential and marked the squad as a possible surprise to make a deep run.
“(ESPN analyst) Carolyn Peck said that we have the best chance of upsetting Notre Dame,” said guard Layshia Clarendon. “We definitely match up very well with both.”