The Cal women’s basketball team doesn’t have a single minute of NCAA Tournament experience on its roster, but coach Lindsay Gottlieb said it could work to the Golden Bears’ advantage.
Cal (24-9) earned its eighth trip to the tournament by finishing second in the Pac-12 Conference behind top-seeded Stanford. The Bears landed a No. 8 seed in the tournament’s Raleigh Regional and will face off with No. 9 Iowa (19-11) at 9:10 a.m. today in South Bend, Ind.
Although a berth was expected, the youthful Bears were elated when the team’s name appeared on TV during ESPN’s selection show Monday.
“I knew we were going to make it, but it was still shocking,” freshman point guard Brittany Boyd said. “I’ve been dreaming of this ever since I started watching the Final Four.”
The Bears don’t have any seniors on the roster, which means they don’t have any experience from the team’s last tournament appearance in 2009 to draw from. By contrast, the Hawkeyes are led by four seniors making their fourth consecutive trip to March Madness. But Gottlieb isn’t concerned about the age factor.
“We have a group that understands how to enjoy the moment,” she said. “The fact that we’re young and energetic and thrilled about the opportunity are all things that I think could work to our advantage.”
What the Bears lack in experience, they make up with size and speed. Cal’s depth in the post with 6-foot-3 center Talia Caldwell, 6-foot-3 forward Reshanda Gray and 6-foot-2 forward Gennifer Brandon creates matchup problems for Iowa, and when the Bears’ transition game gets going through Boyd and junior Layshia Clarendon, they can pile up points quickly.
If Cal does get past Iowa today, it will more than likely encounter No. 1 seed Notre Dame (30-3) in the second round Tuesday.
“Having played the No. 2 team [Stanford] in the country three times has prepared our players for any level of competition,” Gottlieb said.