“We are at a stage in our program where eventually we want this, and we you to be asking the next team, wow what’s it like to go play Cal,” Gottlieb said Sunday. “I think our players, they embrace a stage like this.”
It is a battle of Bears on Monday night for a return trip to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen. No. 2 seed Baylor (30-4) plays on its home court against No. 7 seed Cal (22-9), which last season made an unexpected run to the Final Four but is still far from matching Baylor’s accomplishments in 14 seasons under coach Kim Mulkey.
Sitting at the podium for interviews in what is usually Baylor’s practice gym, Gottlieb and her players find themselves in an environment prominently displaying the home team’s success. Along the length of one wall is a photo montage under the headline “2005 & 2012 NCAA Champions.” A picture of Baylor’s 2010 Final Four team is directly in front of them, and there are other images lauding Big 12 titles and standout players.
“I’m just excited to be able to play against Baylor, one of the very, very good programs,” said junior guard Brittany Boyd, who had 22 points with 10 assists in Cal’s opening-round 64-63 win over Fordham.
Reshanda Gray, Cal’s top scorer and rebounder, said everything in the big room provides a lot of motivation.
“It’s not lost on me when (the players) take ownership of the program,” said Gottlieb, whose 79 wins in her first three seasons are the most by any Cal coach in a three-year span. “And I think they still feel like they have a lot to do, which is really neat.”
The winner in the Notre Dame Regional game advances the Sweet Sixteen next weekend at South Bend.
Baylor is trying to get to the Sweet Sixteen for the sixth consecutive season, and the ninth time overall.
The Lady Bears certainly expected to get farther last year, but that was the round when as defending national champions they were upset by Louisville. Coach Kim Mulkey was publicly critical of the officiating after that one-point loss, which led to a one-game NCAA suspension she served Saturday night — watching from her house as Baylor got past Western Kentucky 87-74.
“We’ve got to defend much better than we did against Western Kentucky. You can’t allow that many points against a good team,” said Mulkey, who will be back on the sideline Monday. “Cal is more of a conventional look like we are. We think we will match up better when them probably.”
Here are five things to watch when the Golden Bears play the Lady Bears:
CLOSE GAMES: After two overtime victories in last year’s NCAA tournament, Cal got started with a one-point victory over Fordham this year. “Coming out on top and winning that game, it’s a confidence booster,” guard Afure Jemerigbe said. “It gives us a lot energy.”
FLAWLESS ASSISTS: In her first NCAA tourney start, Baylor guard Niya Johnson had nine assists and no turnovers against WKU. That gave 220 assists this season, four more than Sheila Lambert’s single-season school record. As impressive, Johnson has only 55 turnovers. “She’s been doing that all year,” Mulkey said. “Her assist-to-turnover ratio is special.”
SPEED IT UP: Cal knows the pace will much different against Baylor than the first-round game when its 64 points were its fewest in a victory since Jan. 10. “I don’t think it’s going to be a problem for us to kind of kick back into a higher gear,” Gottlieb said. “To speed it up and play fast again, you don’t have to ask us twice to do that.”
DOMINATING DAVIS: Nina Davis, the Big 12’s top freshman and an undersized post at 5-foot-11, had a season-high 32 points on 11-of-13 shooting and 10 rebounds in her NCAA debut. “After watching her for a month when the season started .... my concern was if she could get her shot off at that size and if she could defense inside at that size,” Mulkey said. “Nine has done it against the best in the country.”
GOLDEN TEAMMATES: Baylor guard Odyssey Sims and Cal forward Reshanda Gray, the leading scorers for their respective teams, played together on the gold medal-winning U.S. team in the World University Games last year. Gray called Sims a hard worker, a funny kid and a great point guard. Sims is impressed with Gray’s rebounding ability and how that can impact games as much as her scoring.
Cal vs. Baylor
WHEN: Today, 6 p.m.
WHERE: Ferrell Center, Waco, Texas
AT STAKE: A spot in the Sweet 16 against the Syracuse-Kentucky winner