There was no doubt the Cal women’s basketball team was primed to receive an NCAA tournament bid for the third consecutive season.
One by one, the first-round brackets for each region were announced during the Monday NCAA Selection show — first in Lincoln, then in Louisville and then in Stanford. Finally, the last bracket in the Notre Dame region revealed Cal’s postseason fate.
Having amassed a 21-9 season record, the Bears nabbed a No. 7 seed in the Notre Dame Region and will face off against No. 10 seed Fordham (25-7) in Waco, Texas, on Saturday. Tipoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. at the Ferrell Center.
“It’s always exciting to see your name pop up — I’m excited for our players and the opportunity,” said Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “I thought we’d be a six or seven. Either way, you’re going to have a tough first-round game and an opportunity to probably have to beat someone on their home floor. Whoever it is — it doesn’t matter. It’s an exciting opportunity.”
The question now is whether the Bears can produce a postseason run almost as remarkable as their previous one.
Under Gottlieb’s guidance last year, the Bears crafted a spectacular 32-4 season — one that ended with their first Pac-12 conference championship as well as their first Final Four appearance in school history.
This year, Gottlieb led the Cal squad to another winning season, with the Bears most recently finishing in the top two of the Pac-12. Despite losing four graduating seniors who made up what was arguably the best recruiting class in program history, Cal held its own with reliable veterans like senior Afure Jemerigbe and juniors Brittany Boyd and Reshanda Gray leading the way.
The last time the Bears saw the court, they fell to Washington State in the second round of the Pac-12 tournament in a disappointing 91-83 loss. Since then, without knowing its opponent, the Cal squad has been practicing with general court drills as well as some of the more mental aspects of the game.
“We’ve been working on us for the past week — our defense, transition, getting our shooting percentage up,” said senior Mikayla Lyles. “But also a big part of the NCAAs is going in there with confidence — you want to be completely confident in your game and in your team’s game in order to play successfully.”
Cal will need that confidence when it plays a dangerous Fordham squad, fresh off its first Atlantic 10 title in school history. The Rams automatically qualified for their first trip to the Big Dance since 1994 after topping Dayton in a major 63-51 upset. Over the three days of the Atlantic 10 tourney, Fordham set an Atlantic 10 Championship record by only allowing an average of 41.3 points per game.
The Bears will have to match up to the Rams’ consistently stifling defense with a heightened offensive effort, which will most likely manifest itself through Boyd’s coast-to-coast play and transition game.
If the Bears can slice through Fordham’s defense, they will be in a good position to face off against the winner of the No. 2 seed Baylor and No. 15 seed Western Kentucky matchup.
“We’re going to focus on Fordham, get a really good scout on them and get ready to win,” Gottlieb said. “If we get the opportunity to play in the second round against Baylor… Hopefully, we can knock them off in their own arena.”
Janice Chua covers women’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected].