LUBBOCK, Texas — The Cal women’s basketball team has felt hunted all season and it will carry that preyed-upon attitude when the Bears face South Florida for a spot in the NCAA regional semifinals.
The Bulls will try to knock off the Bears when the teams meet today in the second round of the Spokane Regional tonight.
Second-seeded Cal is having its best season in program history, earning a share of the Pac-12 Conference title with Stanford, seeded No. 1 in the regional. The Bears lost in the second round of the conference tournament to end a 16-game win streak that began when they beat the Cardinal in January.
Cal is the only team not seeded first in the NCAA Tournament that has a win over a top seed. The 10th-seeded Bears face an up-tempo South Florida team that edged seventh-seeded Texas Tech for a spot in the second round.
“I think as much as we are the ‘hunted’ this year, we’re still on the prowl as much,” said Layshia Clarendon, who scored 19 points in Cal’s 90-76 win over Fresno State. “We are still very humble and hungry.”
South Florida’s 70-71 win against the Lady Raiders was the program’s first in the NCAA Tournament.
Clarendon sees aspects of the Bears’ style in South Florida and believes minimizing turnovers will be key.
“They are that spazzy, in-your-face play where you’re going to make a layup or they are going to rip the ball out of your hand,” she said, “so taking care of the ball is going to be really essential.”
Both teams are athletic and physical and have good post players. Gennifer Brandon, Talia Caldwell and Brittany Boyd combined for 32 of the Bears’ 51 rebounds against the Bulldogs, while Akila McDonald, Alisia Jenkins and Andrea Smith together got 22 of the Bulls 45 rebounds.
Keeping the Bears off the glass calls for making a statement early, Bulls guard Andrell Smith said.
“Really just hit first, I guess, be physical first, throw the first punch I guess, so to speak,” she said. “Be aggressive and match their intensity, that’s pretty much all we have to do.”
Cal must stop South Florida’s Inga Orekhova’s 3-point threat. She hit five 3s in the Bulls’ win over the Lady Raiders, while the Bears gave up a dozen 3s against Fresno State.
“I think the way it will look against South Florida will be different because they’re a different style,” Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “But we want to make sure we’re not giving up any uncontested looks.”
Orekhova hit a 3 and two free throws down the stretch against Texas Tech. The team celebrated but the Bulls aren’t satisfied.
“Now we have to go to the next step and beat Cal,” she said. “I mean our confidence is big now after winning the first round but we kind of build off of that so always going higher and higher.”
Gottlieb and her staff spent much of the night scouting the Bulls, and a carafe of coffee on their table at breakfast Sunday told her players a game plan was being crafted. Brandon asked if the coffee was both late dinner Saturday and Sunday breakfast.
“And I said ‘maybe,’” Gottlieb said before Brandon urged the staff to get some sleep. “And I said, ‘I need to stay up so you can do what you need to do on Monday night.’ So not a lot of sleep but who wouldn’t want to be staying up during March? I am very, very happy to be working.”
Cal and South Florida can score quickly in transition and have good 3-point shooters, according to Bulls coach Jose Fernandez.
“For us the big key is how well we defend dribble penetration, how well we defend the paint, and how well we win the glass,” he said. “I think offensive and defensive rebounding is going to be crucial at the end of tomorrow night.”