Cal needs two more wins to reach first Final Four

There is no need for Lindsay Gottlieb to mention the Final Four

every day.

Sure, it’s on the minds of every one of her California players

now that they are two victories from that elusive program first and

a trip to the Big Easy.

The second-seeded Golden Bears (30-3) survived a late-game rally

by South Florida for an 82-78 overtime win Monday night in Lubbock,

Texas, and up next is No. 6 seed LSU (22-11) on Saturday night in

the Spokane Regional semifinals.

Gottlieb’s message of late has focused on the idea that this

special March run will go on until an opponent can find a way to

shut down the Bears’ balanced offensive attack.

”We didn’t set a goal of we have to get to the Final Four, we

have to make the Sweet Sixteen,” Gottlieb said. ”I said, `Once we

get to the postseason, let’s be playing so well and be that team

that still loves each other and cares about it that someone has to

stop us.”

It has worked well so far. Even if Gottlieb is surviving on way

too much coffee at the moment as she works tirelessly to study game

film.

”I think one of our biggest goals this year in going to the

tournament, of course New Orleans and we want to get far, but

Lindsay said it a lot, `Play `til someone beats us, `til someone

literally shuts our team down,” senior guard and scoring leader

Layshia Clarendon said Wednesday. ”I think when that’s our goal,

everything else will kind of line up, and if it’s at the Final

Four, the national championship or the next round’s game, so be it,

but play until someone literally beats us.”

After Monday’s close call, Cal realizes just how quickly things

can change at this stage. The Bears squandered a 14-point lead late

in the second half and allowed Inga Orekhova to make three free

throws with less than a second remaining to tie the game at 70 and

force OT, after Clarendon fouled her from behind the 3-point

line.

Clarendon said she knew as soon as it happened, ”You have to

let it go.”

Cal’s theme has become ”Survive and Advance.”

”We know we made some mistakes. We know we made it closer than

maybe we should have,” Gottlieb said. ”We learned lessons in just

how to manage the end of the game but also in our own resilience of

saying, `OK, it didn’t go the way we wanted but we still fought

back and got it done in the extra period.”’

Perhaps winning in wild fashion will provide Cal just the kind

of momentum it needs to go back on the road and keep going.

This team has already accomplished big things – like the first

30-win season in program history and second-ever trip to the round

of 16. Yet the talent and makeup of this close-knit group of women

has them wanting much more, and believing full well they can beat

anyone, anywhere on any stage. With one more win, not only would

Cal reach the regional final for the first time, Gottlieb would

earn her fourth NCAA tournament victory since returning to Berkeley

before last season for the most ever by a Cal women’s coach.

On Wednesday afternoon, Cal released a rap video called

”Started at the Bottom.” It mentions President Barack Obama

picking the Bears for his Final Four, and references the top-ranked

team is where the ”nerds really at” – Stanford. Guards Eliza

Pierre and Mikayla Lyles adapted the lyrics off the original song

by Drake.

Cal has three starters scoring in double figures, while the

other two average 9.2 and 7.2 points, respectively. And Reshanda

Gray brings her production of 8.3 points and 4.9 rebounds off the

bench.

Gottlieb calls it ”a coach’s dream.”

”Without a doubt it’s the most balanced team I’ve ever been

on,” Clarendon said. ”You can’t stop one of us, because we just

have that many weapons. And that is our strength this year as a

program, completely.”

While ready to take the next step for a program that has long

lived in the shadow of Bay Area and conference rival Stanford, Cal

is still making sure to enjoy this time together and have a little

fun.

Gottlieb praised LSU coach Nikki Caldwell’s coaching, but also

made one thing clear about the former UCLA coach’s style and where

Gottlieb herself stacks up.

”They know that their coach is going to be outdressed,” she

said about her players. ”I’ve lost the fashion battle already. …

I will watch film.”