Fresno St.-California Preview

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 Tuesday 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.”