Don’t expect Bears to repeat Final Four run

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The Cal women’s basketball team finished last year’s regular season ranked in the nation’s top five. The squad took down four teams — two in overtime — to assume a place in the Final Four. It was exactly how the season was supposed to go.

The Bears had started last season in the nation’s top 15 but quickly proved themselves part of a much more elite group. Cal went nearly undefeated through conference play — losing its only regular-season conference matchup to then-No. 5 Stanford before rebounding to beat the Cardinal the following game — proving that it was among the best of the best.

The squad fell short in the Pac-12 tournament but got back on track during the NCAA tournament, blazing through Fresno State, USF, LSU and Georgia to find itself well poised to take home a national championship.

Cal went to the program’s first Final Four to face upstart Louisville. Unlike the Bears, the Cardinals were not supposed to be there. Louisville entered the tournament as a No. 5 with eight losses on the season. They were good, but they had not proven themselves to be elite. With defending national champion Baylor knocked out, the championship seemed to be the Bears’ for the taking.

But the Bears could not quite get their fingers wrapped around that precious prize. Cal fell just short, becoming another Louisville-upset victim. The Bears went home empty-handed, while the tournament-darling Cardinals had a chance to complete a set of his-and-hers trophies after the Louisville men’s squad became national champions.

Many thought that was the Bears’ chance — that the squad cannot repeat such an impressive feat without Layshia Clarendon, the 2012-13 team’s senior superstar. Those speculations may be right. This season’s Bears have not had the dominant season that last year’s did. There have been some stumbles and some ugly losses. The squad has lost nine total games, some understandable, such as the matchups against then-No. 2 Duke, then-No.1 Connecticut and two to then-No.4 Stanford, but others rather shocking, such as the losses to George Washington and Washington, in which the Bears were clear favorites.

But these changed circumstances do not mean that the Bears cannot win. They just mean that Cal cannot be the Cal of last year’s tournament. Rather, it must be the Louisville — fighting through tough opponents and defying expectations.

The Bears closed out the regular season ranked in the top 25 and has two All-American candidates in Brittany Boyd and Reshanda Gray. Boyd is this season’s Clarendon, commanding her troops on the court, establishing the Bears’ energy during games and racking up prestigious award considerations throughout the season. She recorded Cal’s second-ever triple-double this season when Cal faced Washington State on Feb. 27, and Gray put up 43 points in the same matchup.

The dynamic duo could help the Bears to emerge as this year’s tournament Cinderella. The squad has the talent to take on anyone in the country — it just has to go out and do it.

Taylor Brink covers women’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected]