While California can boast a trip to last year’s Final Four, it’s been a while since Fordham even made the field for the NCAA women’s tournament.
The No. 7 seed Golden Bears take on the Atlantic 10-champion and 10th-seeded Rams in the opening round of the Notre Dame Regional on Saturday in Waco.
Pac-12 runner-up Cal (21-9), which advanced to the national semifinals last year before losing 64-57 to Louisville, has earned its third consecutive tournament berth, while Fordham (25-7) has reached the NCAAs for just the second time.
The Rams are also only six years removed from an 0-29 season.
When coach Stephanie Gaitley interviewed for the Fordham job two years ago, the school president asked how long it would take before the Rams would be a respectable team.
Her response? "Year 3, I think we can gain respect," Gaitley said Friday.
Now the Rams are in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1994.
"Never in my wildest dreams would it happen so quickly, in Year 2," she added.
Featuring one of the more interesting one-on-one matchups of the tournament, Cal junior Brittney Boyd and Fordham senior Erin Rooney come in as two of only three players in the nation averaging at least 14 points, six rebounds and five assists. The other is Winthrop’s Dequesha McClanahan.
"I’m excited to play against someone putting up the same numbers as me," said Boyd, who averages 14.5 points and like Rooney was quick to credit her teammates for her success.
Reshanda Gray, who ranks fifth in the nation with a 60.4 field goal percentage, leads the Golden Bears with 17.6 points and 9.0 rebounds per game, while Afure Jemerigbe is averaging 11.9 points. Gray scored 43 points against Washington State in February.
Rooney is scoring 17.5 points per game and Abigail Corning 12.6 for Fordham, which had the best defensive showing in Atlantic 10 tournament history by allowing just 41.3 points per game en route to its first conference title.
Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb grew up 25 miles north of Fordham, watching the Rams play and even going to camps on the Bronx, N.Y., campus as a kid.
"Just from afar watching their success, I’ve been happy for them," said Gottlieb, who is 78-23 in her three seasons in the job. "Obviously now we’d like to end it this year, but just a lot of respect for what they’ve done and how they’ve built it."