The Cal women's basketball team isn't worried about the unfavorable No. 8 seed it received in the NCAA tournament. After two years of being shut out of an NCAA bid, all that matters to the Bears is that they are dancing again.
The players, coaches, staff and fans who gathered for a selection show party on Monday at Pappy's Grill & Sports Bar on Telegraph Avenue cheered wildly when Cal's name popped up on the television as part of the Raleigh (N.C.) Regional. The Bears will face No. 9 Iowa in the first round in South Bend, Ind.
The 9:10 a.m. Sunday game will be televised nationally on ESPN2.
"There's no feeling like it," first-year Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said of seeing her team officially make the tournament. "It's such a nervous anticipation. Then you see your name and it's a jubilation unlike any other in sports.
"The best part for me is watching our kids celebrate because they deserve it, they work so hard. To see them so happy, that's the best part of the job."
Adding to the excitement and the challenge for Cal are that none of its current players has competed in an NCAA tournament. With no seniors on the roster, all of the current Bears were still in high school when Alexis Gray-Lawson, Ashley Walker and Devanei Hampton led Cal to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in program history in 2009.
Should Cal win its first-round game, it almost assuredly would face No. 1 seed Notre Dame, the 2011 national runner-up, on the Fighting Irish's home court on Tuesday. While a tough draw, that's about the spot Gottlieb and two of her junior captains, Layshia Clarendon and Talia Caldwell, expected to land.
"I heard anywhere from a six to nine (seed)," Clarendon said. "We'll take it."
The Bears (24-9) were a solid second in the Pac-12 behind conference champion Stanford and owned an RPI of 29 with no bad losses. But while the Bears played down-to-the-wire games with the Cardinal (a 74-71 loss in overtime) and three other NCAA tournament selections, they lacked a signature win.
That Virginia (No. 50 RPI) ranks as Cal's best victory is probably the reason the Bears are staring at a potential matchup with Skylar Diggins and Notre Dame so early in the tournament. The Cavaliers (22-10), who are coached by former Cal coach Joanne Boyle, were not selected for the NCAA tournament.
"It's all about matchups, and I think we definitely match up with Notre Dame probably the best (of the No. 1 seeds)," Clarendon said. "We're not just happy to make it, we want to keep playing. We're not ready for the season to be over."
For now, Cal is focused on Iowa, a team that even a basketball junkie such as Gottlieb admits to knowing little about. Before Monday's selection show had finished, Cal assistant coach Daron Park was already back in the offices at Haas Pavilion pulling film on the Hawkeyes (19-11), who are headed to the NCAA tournament for the fifth straight season.
Iowa, which finished in a four-way tie for second in the Big Ten at 11-5, is one of seven teams selected from that conference.
Cal, on the other hand, is the only Pac-12 team to receive one of 33 available at-large bids.
But the Bears believe they can compete with the nation's best, even if their conference is perceived to be less than challenging.
They are already one of the country's top rebounding squads and have been outrebounded only once this season, coming in that overtime loss to Stanford at Maples Pavilion on Jan. 28.
"Our team has the ability to be magical at times and that's what this tournament is all about," Gottlieb said.