Cal aiming to “make some noise” in NCAA tournament

  • NCAA Tournament: First Round: No. 7 Cal vs No. 10 Virginia
  • Friday, March 11, 5 PM ET/2 PM PT
  • ESPN2

Update: An hour before tip off Cal released a statement of the status of junior center Kristine Anigwe:

California junior center Kristine Anigwe will not be participating in today’s NCAA Tournament game against Virginia. She had been medically cleared and practiced fully these past two weeks; however, she was unable to participate in the morning shootaround and at this time is not cleared by our medical staff to play in today’s game.

Even though California (21-10) suffered a heartbreaking defeat to top ten team UCLA in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament earlier this month, that disappointment became moot a little over a week later when the Golden Bears heard the team’s name called during the NCAA Tournament selection show Monday night.

With the conference tournament now firmly in the rearview mirror, Cal begins play in the NCAAs seeded at No. 7 in the Albany Region on Friday. They will face the No. 10-seeded Virginia Cavaliers (18-13) over 2,600 miles from Berkeley in South Carolina Gamecock country. If the Bears get past Virginia, they may have to go up against South Carolina (26-6), last season’s national champions on Gamecocks’ home court.

Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb expressed confidence in her team’s ability to play well in the NCAA tournament during the postgame presser after the 77-74 loss to UCLA.

“I’m proud of our group, and we have more basketball to play, so I’m looking to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament in two weeks,” Gottlieb said.

The road to the postseason was not an easy one for the Bears. At the beginning of the season, it took a few games before Cal found a groove to go on a seven-game win streak. During Pac-12 play, the team never won more than three games in row. However, the victories the Bears earned at the end of the regular season were significant. They included a double-digit win over Stanford and a road sweep of the conference’s Washington schools.

Those wins are indicative of Cal’s growth over the course of the season with younger players including freshman guard Kianna Smith and sophomore center CJ West stepping up to the plate in crucial moments.

Junior point guard Asha Thomas kept the team anchored and stable even in the face of stiff competition. It was not uncommon to see Thomas take over in the waning moments of games to spur Cal to victory. She led the team in scoring in five of its last seven games. Junior forward/center Kristine Anigwe, who is averaging 17.5 points per game and 9.0 rebounds per contest, had four double-doubles in four of the team’s last five games.

“I think we’ve had a really good year, but I think we’ve been playing our best basketball at the end,” Gottlieb said earlier this week about her team’s trajectory. “I think it shows that the committee has been watching our progression. We got a good win down the stretch and were close on another. I think that shows our ability to elevate and we’re really looking forward to playing in the NCAA tournament.”

Gottlieb will be facing a familiar figure as former Cal coach Joanne Boyle is at the helm of the Cavaliers. Gottlieb spent six seasons as an assistant to Boyle including time at Richmond and Cal. Friday’s game marks the second meeting between the two coaches. Gottlieb won the first contest.

The Bears join six other Pac-12 teams in the tournament. It is the the fifth-straight year that at least five Pac-12 teams earned bids, one short of the league mark set last season. Having half dozen teams from the conference to make the cut was no surprise for Gottlieb.

“It’s a pretty consistent thing now. The Pac-12 is one of the best conferences in the country and we’re excited to have half the teams from the conference in the NCAA Tournament. I know everyone is going to do well.”

The Cal vs. Virginia matchup takes place before No. 2-seed South Carolina hosts No. 15 North Carolina A&T. The games will be broadcast live  ESPN2 and the ESPN App with Paul Sunderland and Steffi Sorensen.

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