California was so far on the underside of the NCAA women’s tournament bubble that coach Lindsay Gottlieb limited her team’s selection show watch party Monday to players and staff.
A 6-12 Pac-12 record followed by a split of two games in the conference tournament seemingly offset the Bears’ 12-0 nonconference record, which had them ranked as high as 20th in December.
Imagine, then, the reaction when it was announced that Cal made the tournament. The Bears (19-13) meet LSU (20-11) in a first-round game at 8 p.m. Saturday at Baylor's Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.
”We were so much on the bubble,” Gottlieb said Tuesday. “I’m a pretty analytical person and, when I looked at the committee’s 16 criteria, we were on the positive side of most of them. So I don’t want to say I was surprised. But if we had been disappointed, I wanted that to be an intimate setting with the ones who are with us every day.”
Selection committee chairman Terry Gawlik, the senior women’s administrator at Wisconsin, said Cal, Auburn, Northern Iowa and Purdue were the last four at-large teams to get in. But the fact that the Bears are a No. 9 seed — ahead of No. 10 seed Oregon, which finished two games ahead of them in the Pac-12 but now must travel all the way to Durham, North Carolina — drew criticism from some analysts.
Gawlik said it was a procedural move to balance the bracket.
“I’m glad that people care,” Gottlieb said. “Some would say it’s better to be a 10 seed than a 9 because you avoid that No. 1 line."
Saturday's winner likely faces top-seeded Baylor in the second round.
"We wish we had done more, but we are thrilled to be in the tournament," Gottlieb added. "After last year (when Cal was 15-17) and to see the sheer joy on our kids’ faces finding out they were in when they didn’t know they were, was something special.”
Even if Cal didn’t make the tournament, it was a good week for Gottlieb.
On Sunday, Patrick Martin, her longtime boyfriend, proposed. Gottlieb, who is expecting their child in May, accepted.
“I’m trying to keep it all together and enjoy the moment,” she said. “I feel so fortunate to have all these fun life things coincide with basketball, which is my other family. I’m overwhelmed with joy.”
Gottlieb’s situation brings to mind that of LSU coach Nikki Fargas, whose daughter, Justice, was born March 6, 2012 — two days after LSU lost to Tennessee in the SEC tournament final. Fargas, then in her first year at LSU, came back the following week as the Lady Tigers won their NCAA tournament opener before being eliminated by Penn State.
“I think my timing is slightly better, but Nikki can pull off a maternity outfit better than I can,” said Gottlieb, who at 39 is the same age as Fargas when Justice was born. “She’s a real role model for having your family and career at the same time. We once had a conversation about starting a family, and she told me that you should never feel like you have to sacrifice family and relationships because of your career.”
Last time they met
It was somewhat surprising that the Lady Tigers advanced to the second weekend of the 2013 NCAA tournament since they had only eight healthy players at season’s end. But they knocked off No. 8 Penn State in the second round to get to a regional matchup with California in Spokane, Washington.
The game was tied with 12 minutes left, but Cal took control as LSU missed nine straight shots. Adrienne Webb and Theresa Plaisance led the Lady Tigers with 15 points each.
Cal, which made 26 of 41 free throws against LSU, then beat Georgia in the regional final to advance to its only Final Four in school history. The Bears lost to Louisville 64-57 in the semifinals in New Orleans.
Odds and ends
This is LSU’s 25th NCAA tournament appearance, putting the Lady Tigers behind only Tennessee (36), Georgia (32) and Vanderbilt (27) among Southeastern Conference schools. The Lady Tigers are 43-24 in the tournament. … LSU is 16-3 all-time in first-round games and had won those 16 in succession before a loss at South Florida in 2015. … LSU hasn’t won a tournament game away from Baton Rouge since 2010, when the Lady Tigers defeated Hartford in a first-round game played at Duke. … Fargas is 6-2 against Cal — 6-1 in three seasons at UCLA and 0-1 with LSU.