Superior interior play to be on display when #4 Cal faces #5 Texas in the NCAA second round

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  • Sunday, March 22, 6 p.m. PT
  • Haas Pavilion, Berkeley, Calif.
  • TV: ESPN2, Melissa Lee and Mary Murphy
  • Radio: KVET 103.1 FM iHeart Austin or – Craig Way and Kathy Harston

BERKELEY, Calif. – No. 4 seed California (24-9, 13-5 Pac-12) hosts the No. 5 seed Texas (23-10, 9-9 Big 12) in the Albany region of the NCAA tournament Sunday evening. Both teams feature outstanding post players who routinely dismantle opponents with ferocious rebounding and powerful moves to the basket on the offensive end.

After defeating Western Kentucky Friday night and advancing to the program’s fourth consecutive NCAA second round appearance, Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb talked about Texas’ strengths.

“They are really athletic, they come at you defensively, they pressure, and just the balance of their athleticism and size. Imani (McGee-Stafford) was terrific tonight, I mean 24 (points) and 15 (rebounds), are some type of video game stats. They have that good balance of athleticism and interior play. It’s going to be a big challenge.”

Texas head coach Karen Aston had similar comments about the Bears.

“Cal is really big. They are big on the perimeter; they have terrific size and athleticism, which I think will allow us to play our two bigs together at times. It doesn’t allow us to play them together all of the time, because I think sometimes they do better when they go in for each other, when they feel like they have each other’s backs throughout the game, almost like a combo. I do think there will be times in the game that we will have to play both and it will be beneficial to us.”

Lang and McGee-Stafford vs. Gray

Texas is buoyed on the inside by 6-7 junior center Imani McGee-Stafford and 6-5 sophomore center Kelsey Lang. McGee-Stafford came into the tournament averaging 9.9 points per game and 6.6 rebounds per contest while Lang averaged 10.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per contest. McGee leads the team in scoring in postseason play. During the Big 12 tournament she averaged 11.7 points per game.

McGee-Stafford missed the first eight games of the season as she recovered from surgery to reinforce her left tibia. However, she started for Texas in the game vs. WKU and is logging more starts as Aston becomes more comfortable with her starting. She finished the first round game with 24 points and 15 rebounds.

Cal benefits from the finesse and strength of Pac-12 player of the year, senior post Reshanda Gray. She entered NCAA play leading her team in points per game (17.5) and second in rebounds (7.2). Cal’s other post players did not log any significant minutes vs. Western Kentucky. Gray scored 22 points and pulled down nine rebounds.

Aston recognizes the outstanding talent of Gray on the inside and knows her entire squad will have to contribute to stifle the experienced post.

“I definitely would say even though the conversation is about Imani and Reshanda (Gray)’s matchup, I do think that tomorrow’s game will have a lot to do with both teams supporting casts,” said Aston. “We are not going to guard Reshanda Gray with Imani McGee-Stafford; Reshanda is just too good. She is an extremely hard worker who puts a lot of pressure on you each possession, and that’s going to take a team effort to guard. Our whole entire team is going to have to play its best basketball.”

Series History and the Presence of Jody Conradt

The Longhorns and the Golden Bears meet for the seventh time in program history and the first-ever time in the NCAA tournament.

“Texas is a great team with a storied history,” said Gottlieb about the Longhorns. “Karen’s done a great job getting them on that track back to where Texas always is. It’s going to be a really big challenge for us.”

Aston complimented Gottlieb and the poise of Cal’s players.

“Well, Lindsay does a great job coaching, and they have a terrific amount of enthusiasm about the way they play. I think the one of the huge factors is that they have players that have been there and have done this before. You could tell…that they knew it was tournament time…they have a sense of urgency that we are going to have to match because we are still pretty young.”

Former Longhorn coach Jody Conradt was in attendance Friday night in Berkeley. She was the first-ever women’s basketball collegiate coach to reach 700 career victories and lead a women’s team to an undefeated season. The 1985-86 Longhorns went 34-0 in 1985-86 and won the national championship that season.

Texas leads the all-time series vs. Cal, 4-2, winning the only two meetings on neutral courts including the last matchup, 61-60, at the Rainbow Wahine Showdown in Honolulu, Hawai’i on Nov. 26, 2011.

The Longhorns are 2-0 against Pac-12 Conference teams this season, a deuce in road victories (87-81 OT at Stanford and 75-65 at UCLA).

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