BERKELEY (CBS / AP) — Lindsay Gottlieb had barely gotten done talking to her California team about ignoring any outside NCAA tournament chatter when she learned President Barack Obama had picked her Golden Bears to reach the Final Four.
Getting by rival Stanford in the process, no less.
Her players quickly texted and teased. And, now, there’s no way the coach won’t let them enjoy the ultimate compliment—for a little while, at least. Even Gottlieb herself was giddy, calling her retired judge father, Stephen, and waking him late night on the East Coast.
“We could win a lot of games and my father will still be more probably excited if the president is talking about it,” Gottlieb said, chuckling during a Wednesday conference call. “With everything that’s happened this year you kind of try not to get too excited about things, but I’m a child of a political family and that was pretty cool. It’s funny, literally my message to the team yesterday was, ‘Anything that you hear from the outside, good or bad, predictions, block it out.’ I did not expect that that would include anything from President Obama. I’m going to maybe have to give them a pass on that one. We’ll probably laugh about it today.”
Before Cal can even think about the program’s first Final Four, it must travel to Texas to take on a familiar in-state opponent for Saturday’s first round: feisty, postseason-tested Fresno State.
And there’s still that probable matchup with Stanford in the Spokane regional final for a spot at the Final Four in New Orleans. The Cardinal have reached five straight Final Fours, Cal is looking for its first.
At No. 2 in its region, Cal (28-3) earned the highest NCAA seed in program history. The Bears wound up ranked No. 6 in the Associated Press poll and shared the Pac-12 regular-season title with Bay Area rival Stanford, then lost 70-58 in the conference tournament semifinals to UCLA.
Now, it’s time to take the next step with a Final Four berth and put Berkeley on the map for elite women’s basketball.
“What this team has done to put California in the public eye, we’re proud of that,” Gottlieb said. “We also know it means nothing unless we take care of business. We’ll enjoy it for a little bit, then we’ll worry about taking care of the first-round game.”
Neither Gottlieb nor first-year Fresno State coach Raegan Pebley will complain about traveling to Lubbock for Saturday’s game—each happy not to be heading cross-country.
Gottlieb was plenty prepared to hit the road for the first two rounds given Stanford is hosting at home in Maples Pavilion and Cal wouldn’t get sent there. The Bears aren’t worried about a potential second-round date with seventh-seeded Texas Tech on the Lady Raiders’ home court, either.
“I’ve had my mind wrapped around playing on someone else’s home floor,” Gottlieb said, “so it wasn’t a surprise at all. That’s just the way women’s basketball is right now.”
And 15th-seeded Fresno State (24-8), the Mountain West Conference champion, had to figure on packing its bags, too. The Bulldogs are back for a sixth straight NCAA tournament appearance still trying for the program’s first victory.
There will be familiar faces on both benches given the all-California matchup.
“It’s exciting for those who follow California women’s basketball,” Pebley said.
And it could be an even more intriguing all-California matchup in the regional final April 1 in Spokane, Wash., if Cal and Stanford each does its part.
Fresno State hopes to have a say in that. Way back in early November, the Bulldogs showed they are a legitimate contender in a hard-fought 72-61 loss at Stanford in the season opener for both schools—yes, the Bulldogs looked good losing to the Cardinal in Pebley’s debut in her new job.
“I think it’s the first thing we have to pack in our suitcases is that feistiness,” said Pebley, whose team faced four Pac-12 opponents in all.
Her team is riding some nice momentum with a seven-game winning streak and victories in 14 of its last 16 games.
Gottlieb understands there’s much more to March Madness than having the country’s most powerful man on your side.
“You know, these kids, we were talking about it last night. With the immediacy of texting and phone calls, I love these kids and we can be real and talk about stuff like that,” Gottlieb said of the President’s prognosticating. “It was kind of going around the team last night. Today, of course I’ll address it and mention it. We try to appreciate the moment, we try to have fun and enjoy this. I’ll let them know that’s all that it is—a chance to kind of laugh and smile and think that’s cool.”
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