Lindsay Gottlieb talks Cal basketball

Levy Yun/Staff

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In the midst of a 19-2 season and a No. 6 national ranking, Cal women’s basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb sat down with the Daily Cal to discuss her team’s season, basketball tactics and the current landscape of college women’s basketball.

Read an excerpt of Gottlieb’s answers to the Daily Cal’s questions below.

Seung Y. Lee, The Daily Californian: One and a half years ago when you came to Cal, did you expect this much success in such a short span of time?

Lindsay Gottlieb: I don’t think I was thinking specifically that far ahead. I did know that I wanted to make Cal one of the best programs in the country. I thought a lot of pieces were there to be able to do that, but to see it materialize and to see the day-to-day work these players put in, turning it into wins and being sixth in the country — it’s pretty cool. At the same time, we understand that there’s a lot of basketball left, and no one gets awards for how well you do in February, so we want to keep going.

DC: What is the peak expectation for this successful season?

LG: I think the difference between this year and last year in terms of our goal setting is that we said we are ready to raise the bar a little bit in terms of how we talk about what our goals are. We said it was realistic for this team to talk about the goal being a championship.

There’s a lot that goes into that, and that is certainly not anointing ourselves ready to win anything — that was way back in the fall saying that if we are ready to say that if we do the right things we can talk about the championships.

This team feels like when we are playing well, there is no ceiling. Can we be a Final Four contender? Maybe. I like the pieces we have. I like the idea that this team is still committed to getting better. I don’t think we even played our best basketball yet. We need to keep improving, and then, the sky’s the limit.

DC: In almost every quote in every article, there’s some mention about “Cal basketball” —  “We are playing Cal basketball” or, “We need to play Cal basketball.” Can you describe what that is in more detail? Is Cal basketball still in transition and evolving?

LG: When I talk about Cal basketball, it’s fast, it’s pushing the tempo, it’s pressure defense, it’s making other teams uncomfortable, it’s sharing the basketball and being versatile, using our strength in the post but using our ability to have perimeter scoring. So when I envision Cal basketball, it’s fast, tough, aggressive, versatile, unselfish — the best version of us is when those are clicking.

When I say this team still can get better, I think that this team is capable of shooting a higher percentage than we are still right now. I know we can shoot better from the free throw line. We can play a full 40 minutes.

DC: For the past several years, it’s always the same four, five teams in college basketball in the Final Four. It seems like they have a monopoly over women’s basketball supremacy. What makes them so special, and how does one crack into that?

LG: Pretty simply, they often have the best players. You look at UConn, Baylor, Tennessee in the past — they had six, seven, eight or nine All-Americans. You add to that they are really well-coached. Those teams in the elite deserve to be there.

I do believe there is more parity from the (best) five to 35 teams. There is more competition within conferences, night in and night out — the kind of relative consistency in the Final Four, notwithstanding. I think there are opportunities to break into that really elite status, and one of the reasons I really wanted the job here was that Cal can be one of those teams. Six, seven years ago, you weren’t talking about Baylor.

It takes not just a combination of building a team but building a program. I think we have a great administration here. I think we have a lot to offer here, from the location to academics to the culture of the athletic department to the way our coaching staff operates.

Contact Seung Y. Lee at [email protected]