BERKELEY -- The Cal women's basketball team is headed to the NCAA tournament for a third straight year, though the road to a repeat Final Four appearance is full of obstacles.
As the No. 7 seed in the Notre Dame region, Cal likely would have to beat the region's top two seeds on their home courts to complete another surprise run to the tournament's final weekend in Nashville, Tenn.
Cal (21-9) drew a first-round game with No. 10 seed Fordham at 1 p.m. Saturday in Waco, Texas.
If the Bears beat the Atlantic 10 champion, they then would need to take down No. 2 seed Baylor on its home court just to advance to the Sweet 16. Unbeaten No. 1 seed Notre Dame looms in South Bend, Ind., the following weekend.
"We know every game is going to be a blood, sweat, tears dogfight," junior forward Reshanda Gray said.
But despite the challenging draw, Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb was in a lighthearted mood after the brackets were announced. While addressing fans who had gathered to watch the selection show at Memorial Stadium's Field Club, Gottlieb poked fun at Baylor coach Kim Mulkey, known for her intense personality on the sidelines and extravagant fashion choices.
"If we play Baylor in the second round," Gottlieb said. "I can guarantee that I will be wearing less leather than Kim."
In all seriousness, Cal landed just about where Gottlieb expected after her team finished second in the Pac-12 regular-season standings and lacked any marquee out-of-conference wins.
"When I saw Oregon State as (a nine) and USC as a nine, I thought maybe we'd be a six," Gottlieb said. "Either way we were going to have a really tough first game and an opportunity to probably have to beat someone on their home floor in the second game."
Cal's seeding might have been a bit better if not for two straight losses -- one at home to Washington, the other in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals to Washington State -- heading into the NCAA tournament. Those losses came on the heels of a seven-game winning streak.
"We're a young team and still finding our identity," Gray said. "We're happy to have a No. 7 seed. Lucky No. 7."
The Bears do have a slight edge in their daunting road ahead -- they know what it takes to be successful in the postseason. Last year's run to the Final Four in New Orleans took two overtime wins and a challenge from the No. 15 seed in the first round.
"I think this team understands how tenuous success in the NCAA tournament is, and it's certainly attainable but can also be very fleeting," Gottlieb said. "We're looking forward to the opportunity to do some special things again."
Though Cal players know very little about Fordham (25-7), Gottlieb is familiar with the program making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1994.
Gottlieb grew up about 20 miles from the Fordham campus, located in the Bronx, N.Y., and attended basketball camps there as a kid. She followed the program recently as coach Stephanie Gaitley guided the Rams to their first A-10 championship this year, just six seasons after going winless against Division I competition.