BERKELEY — Coach Lindsay Gottlieb is asking the players on the Cal women’s basketball team to press the mute button on all talking heads analyzing the squad as it heads into the NCAA Tournament. But she is making an exception for the opinion of one person: President Barack Obama.
As the No. 2 seed in the Spokane Regional, Cal (28-3) is a marked team as it prepares to tipoff tournament play against No. 15 seeded Fresno State (24-8) in Lubbock, Texas, on Saturday. They’re no longer underdogs, finding their way into the Final Four in several pre-tournament brackets, including the presidential bracket.
“My message to the team [on Tuesday] was, anything that you hear from the outside, good or bad, block it out,” Gottlieb said. “I did not expect that would include anything from President Obama, so I’m going to maybe have to give them a pass on that one.”
The Bears are well aware of the pitfalls of being overconfident. After setting a school record with 16 straight wins, the Bears fell to UCLA 70-58 in the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament.
Gottlieb said the team has learned from the experience and is looking forward.
“We talked about never being comfortable, understanding that great teams are going to come out and give us their best game and we always have to be ready for that,” she said.
The team certainly isn’t taking Fresno State lightly. The Bulldogs beat Washington State and USC, and lost to Oregon by a point this season.
“My first impression as I watched film was — this team’s a No. 15 seed?” Gottlieb said. “You don’t win 24 games unless you are good.”
The Bulldogs are a balanced team with four players averaging double figures on the score sheet, led by Ki-Ki Moore, who scores an average of 17.4 points per outing. Coach Raegan Pebley’s team likes to drive and dish and they force an average of 20.1 turnovers per game on defense.
If the Bears do knock out the Bulldogs, they’ll face the winner of No. 7 Texas Tech (21-10) and No. 10 South Florida (20-10).
Gottlieb said she isn’t concerned about home-court advantage being a factor if the Bears meet the Red Raiders in the second round.
“Our team actually relishes being on the road,” she said. “I think they like playing in front of big crowds, even if they’re not cheering for us.”