BERKELEY -- After months of mixing and matching, coach Lindsay Gottlieb has finally found a rotation that works for the Cal women's basketball team.

As the Bears open NCAA tournament play against Fordham on Saturday in Waco, Texas, they feel much more consistent and sure of their identity than they did at the start of Pac-12 conference play.

"A lot of people got more confident," point guard Brittany Boyd said. "We're still learning, but I think since the beginning of the season we've made a humongous leap."

Possibly, but Cal is 0-2 in March. The Bears were upset in Berkeley by Washington in their regular-season finale, and they were eliminated by Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals in Seattle. Neither Washington school was invited to the tournament.

Cal doesn't have an easy path to the Sweet 16. Seeded seventh in the Notre Dame Regional, if the Bears (21-9) get past Fordham, they likely will play Baylor (29-4) on the Texas school's home floor.

The Golden Bears had won seven in a row before stumbling against the Washington schools, and much of that winning streak had to do with their newfound consistency, which included fitting the right people into the right roles.

When the Bears made their unprecedented Final Four run a year ago, they used the exact same starting lineup in all but two games the entire season.

This year, seven players have started at least 10 games.

"I had to find a rhythm with this team," Gottlieb said. "It was everyone taking on something new."

Besides integrating six new players, Cal also dealt with its share of injuries as well as some unexpected personnel issues. Gennifer Brandon, the program's all-time leading rebounder, returned ahead of schedule from an offseason surgery to repair a stress fracture in her leg, only to miss 10 games for personal reasons.

Freshman guard Mercedes Jefflo started the Bears' first nine games but was suspended for the next four for a violation of team rules. Starting forward Justine Hartman missed time with a concussion.

Then in February, just after Cal was swept by Stanford, freshman guard Hind Ben Abdelkader abruptly left the team to return home to Belgium.

But ever since their two losses to the Cardinal, the Bears' rotation has steadied. They rattled off a seven-game winning streak, avenging losses to tournament teams USC and Arizona State, before stumbling in their final two games. One of those losses came with Boyd resting a knee injury.

The final piece of the rotation puzzle was inserting senior sharpshooter Mikayla Lyles into the starting lineup, allowing freshmen Jefflo and Courtney Range to contribute as subs.

Brandon also has found a groove coming off the bench after starting 65 games in her first three seasons at Cal. The physical Hartman starts at forward instead, which helps keep the Bears' other starting post, leading scorer Reshanda Gray, out of foul trouble.

"It's been more about rotations than who starts and who doesn't, and I think it works for us," Gottlieb said.

While the Bears bring several new pieces into the NCAA tournament, they still might be the most experienced team in the Waco subregional. Four players -- Gray, Boyd, Brandon and Afure Jemerigbe -- have played heavy minutes in seven NCAA tournament games over the past two seasons.

The Bears hope to use that experience to their advantage against a No. 10 seeded Fordham team making its first tournament appearance in two decades.

In the Rams, Cal is preparing for a disciplined, veteran team led by Erin Rooney. The senior guard averages 17.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists.

Saturday's game

NOTRE DAME REGIONAL: Cal (21-9) vs. Fordham (25-7) at Waco, Texas, 1 p.m. ESPN2