2011-2012 Storylines: How quickly can Lindsay Gottlieb lead a turnaround?

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If the Cal women’s basketball team plays to its potential, then first-year head coach Lindsay Gottlieb should

be able to turn things around in one season.

Getting the Bears to play to their potential has been the problem, though.

Last season was a disappointment for Cal, with a six-game losing streak in February crushing any NCAA tournament hopes. The Bears lose three players from that squad. The team’s leading scorer, DeNesha Stallworth, decided to transfer just weeks before coach Joanne Boyle decided to leave Berkeley for Virginia. The other two players were both seniors, reserves who played sparingly most of the season.

All of that should add up to another middling season, right? Not exactly.

Cal returns a ton of talent, with even more on the way. Guard Layshia Clarendon came on strong at the end of the season, scoring at least 20 points in three of the final four games. Center Talia Caldwell was a monster on the glass all season, finishing second in the conference in rebounds with 8.6 per contest.

Boyle may have left behind an underachieving team but she also left behind a top recruiting class. The three-person class was ranked No. 7 by ESPN — and that was before the No. 7 recruit in the country,  Justine Hartman, signed with Cal. Hartman, a 6-foot-2 forward, decommitted from UCLA after Bruins coach Nikki Caldwell left for LSU.

The other three incoming freshmen should also contribute immediately. Wing Erika Johnson and forward Reshanda Gray are both top-25 recruits, while Brittany Boyd gives Gottlieb another option at point guard.

Still, Cal has had elite recruiting classes before.

It will be Gottlieb’s job to make sure the young players pan out, and she certainly has the pedigree.

In her first year as head coach of UCSB, she led the Gauchos to the conference title and the NCAA tournament. During that 2008-2009 season, she was named Big West Coach of the Year. Prior to that, she helped bring national prominence to Cal as the associate head coach under Boyle.

Perhaps more important than any of the accolades, Gottlieb will bring much-needed energy, enthusiasm and fire to the program. In a weak conference (other than Stanford), that might be enough to make a run at an NCAA berth.

Image source: Cal Media Relations