Gennifer Brandon doesn't know her vertical jump, but Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb is pretty sure nobody in college women's basketball gets more hang time than her 6-foot-2 sophomore forward.
"When Gen gets up for a rebound above everybody, I've never seen anyone in the women's game where it looks quite like that," Gottlieb said.
Brandon's tremendous leaping ability is a big reason why the Bears enter their opening round NCAA tournament game against Iowa in South Bend, Ind., on Sunday as one of the nation's best teams at cleaning up the glass.
With four skilled and athletic post players, No. 8 Cal (24-9) will try to exploit its advantage in the paint against the perimeter-oriented No. 9 Hawkeyes (19-11) in a Raleigh regional game slated for 9:10 a.m. at Notre Dame's Joyce Center.
Brandon is part of a Bears rebounding quartet from the Los Angeles area that also includes 6-3 junior center Talia Caldwell and freshmen forwards Reshanda Gray (6-3) and Justine Hartman (6-2).
It's a group so deep that Brandon recently broke Cal's single-season rebounding record despite coming off the bench the last 12 games. In 24.1 minutes per contest, she averages a team-high 9.9 boards, fourth in the Pac-12 behind UCLA's Markel Walker and Stanford's Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike.
Brandon also contributes 8.8 points per game.
"Rebounding is very important to me," said Brandon, who has nine double-doubles and six games of 15 or more rebounds this year. "It helps the team and it stops the other team. It gives us an advantage on offense, as well, because we're a pretty good transition team."
Brandon enters the NCAA tournament with 328 rebounds, having surpassed Ashley Walker's 2007-2008 record of 317 during a Pac-12 semifinal win against Washington State. Gottlieb sees a lot of similarities between Brandon and Walker, whom the coach regards as one of Cal's all-time greats.
They're both exceedingly sweet, thoughtful people -- until the ball tips off, Gottlieb said.
"On the court, she has an aggression level that I think is equally as important as her leaping ability," Gottlieb said of Brandon. "She's not afraid of contact, she's not afraid to go after balls. It seems against her nature because she's such a nice kid, but when she wants a ball there are not a lot of people that are going to keep her from getting it."
Brandon came to Cal from Chatsworth High in Sylmar in the fall of 2009 as a high school All-American. She averaged 8.5 rebounds a game that first year, but a painful stress fracture in her right shin forced her to redshirt last season.
Now fully recovered, Brandon can help Cal finish with its best rebounding year in program history. The Bears are just 42 rebounds shy of the school record 1,558, a total they have a good chance of reaching against an Iowa team with an affinity for the 3-pointer.
The Hawkeyes, who won eight of their past nine games even after leading scorer Jaime Printy was lost with an ACL tear, have a 6-5 center in Morgan Johnson. But freshman point guard Samantha Logic leads the Hawkeyes on the boards at 7.2 per game.
The Bears would like their edge inside to translate into second-chance points, a boost to their transition game and a victory in their first NCAA appearance since 2009.
"They have a relentless drive to just go after the ball," Gottlieb says of her post players.