Cal takes on Fresno St; Texas Tech faces USF

Cal players think it’s cool that President Barack Obama’s

bracket has the Golden Bears in the Final Four.

And that’s about as far as the Bears are going to take it. They

are preparing to face 15th-seeded Fresno State on Saturday and

perhaps regain their stride following a hiccup in the Pac-12

tournament two weeks ago that broke a 16-game win streak. Players

say Obama’s pick won’t be a distraction for the second-seeded

Bears.

”Our focus is completely on tomorrow’s game and all week long

we worked on just getting better at the little stuff,” senior

center Talia Caldwell said. ”Just perfecting things we have done

all year, so it’s nothing completely different.”

The two teams, whose campuses are 185 miles apart, traveled

1,400 miles to Lubbock to lead off first-round play in the NCAA

tournament Saturday. Afterward, 10th-seeded South Florida takes on

seventh-seeded Texas Tech, the host team that’s appearing in its

20th NCAA tournament two decades after bringing the national title

to West Texas.

This is the second time Cal (28-3) and Fresno State (24-8) have

played in the first round of the tournament. The Golden Bears won

70-47 in 2009.

Cal is coming off its best season in program history and is the

only team not seeded first in the tournament that’s beaten one of

the four top seeds. The Golden Bears shared the Pac-12 regular

season title with Stanford and began their 16-game win streak by

beating the Cardinal in Palo Alto, five days after falling to them

in Berkeley.

Cal coach Lindsey Gottlieb sees what has made her team click

this season and said she believes players will bring those keys to

Saturday’s game.

”When you see us play it is really palpable and evident that

this group loves each other and loves playing together,” she said.

”I think we’re really versatile. We are fast and athletic, we have

beasty post players and then the guard play as well is a problem

for people.”

Fresno State’s challenge will be to keep California from getting

the ball to those ”beasty” players inside, while also minding the

Bears prolific guards, Brittany Boyd and Layshia Clarendon, who

together are averaging 28 points per game.

The Bulldogs, who won the conference tournament in their first

season in the Mountain West, are playing in their sixth straight

NCAA tournament. They also must tend to Caldwell (9.2 ppg) and

Gennifer Brandon, who leads Cal with 11.2 rebounds. Fresno State

coach Raegan Pebley said that daunting task will fall in large

measure to her perimeter players.

”Who has stopped them this year?” she said. ”Our focus is

really how to stop how they get the ball. Putting our post

defenders in a situation where they can be most successful.”

She is also counting on her team’s tenacity.

”I don’t think we’re going to change who we are now that we’re

in the NCAA tournament just because we’re seeing Cal,” she said.

”We’re going to still be us so we can be our most confident.”

The Lady Raiders are in the NCAA tournament for only the second

time in coach Kristy Curry’s seven seasons at Texas Tech. They were

tough to beat at home this season, going 14-3 this year.

Texas Tech (21-10) brings a three-game skid into its first round

against South Florida (21-10). The Bulls are back in the NCAA

tournament for the first time since 2006.

Tech’s defense allowed opponents to make 40 percent of their

field goals this season and there will be no day off against the

Bulls. USF has a twin threat – sisters Andrea and Andrell Smith –

who can put points on the board in a hurry (combined 30.3 ppg).

Texas Tech guard Monique Smalls said facing the Smiths will

remind her of Big 12 guards like Oklahoma State’s Tiffany Bias or

Oklahoma’s Aaryn Ellenberger.

”They are very, very quick and they love to get out to push the

ball,” the senior point guard said. ”They know where the other

is. We’ve already faced that, so we’re all ready to come out and

face that Saturday.”

The Bulls also have Inga Orekhova (12.2 ppg).

”We’re going to go as far as these three guys right here are

going to take us, and that’s been our story all year,” Bulls coach

Jose Fernandez said of the Smiths and Orekhova. ”We got to make

sure we take good shots. We love to shoot the three, look at our

stats. That’s a big part of it. We can’t come down and take

contested, quick shots.”

Curry thinks the two teams are very similar in guard play but

believes the game could come down to post play. For the Lady

Raiders, that’s Kelsi Baker (10.6 ppg) and Christine Hyde (9.5

ppg); Akila McDonald (3.7 ppg) and Alisia Jenkins (6.2 ppg) play in

the post for the Bulls.

”Their post players are underrated,” Curry said. ”Seems like

when they need a play made both those post players step up.”