March 20, 2012
NOTRE DAME, Ind. (AP) – Cal corrals rebounds at a dizzying rate, and the Golden Bears will need that strong board play and plenty of poise if they have any chance of upsetting top-seeded Notre Dame in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Cal had a 13.2 average rebounding edge over opponents this season, and the Golden Bears beat Iowa 41-29 on the boards in their NCAA opener over the weekend, including a whopping 19-7 edge on the offensive glass during a 10-point victory.
The Golden Bears need to grab one more rebound Tuesday to set the program’s single-season record (they’ve tied the record 1,558 set in 1980-81). They are also averaging nearly 46 rebounds per game.
Notre Dame had little trouble on the boards against Liberty – another team with a strong rebounding margin – but the more talented Golden Bears have three tall and aggressive players inside in 6-2 Gennifer Brandon, 6-3 Talia Caldwell and 6-3 Reshanda Gray.
“We still have to do our fundamentals – box out, go after it and check your opponent,” Caldwell said. “We’ll see if it’s more difficult tomorrow. I think if we do our fundamentals we’ve learned all season we can do just as well as we have been doing.”
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said the Irish are going to need contributions from everyone in what is basically a four-guard offense.
“I think they are a better rebounding team than Liberty, just so much more athletic, so much faster, bigger, stronger,” McGraw said. “It’s scary watching them rebound. We’ve got to get everybody in there to help. I don’t think we’re going to be able to rely on one person.”
Notre Dame’s biggest starter, 6-2 Devereaux Peters, said the Irish will have to beat the Golden Bears to the ball. It’s that simple.
“They have some pretty big posts and are pretty athletic and obviously crash the boards a lot,” she said. “We’ll probably use our quickness a little bit more tomorrow since they have some bigger girls.”
Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb knows the Golden Bears must keep Notre Dame from jumping out fast behind its loud home crowd, something Liberty couldn’t do when it fell behind 11-0 in the first two minutes and never caught up during a 74-43 loss Sunday.
The Golden Bears hope to make Notre Dame take difficult shots and will have to send their post players to the perimeter to defend the 3-point shot.
Cal (25-9) played a tough schedule, losing three times to No. 2 Stanford, once in overtime at Palo Alto by three points. They were beaten convincingly in the other two meetings, including a 15-point loss in the finals of the Pac-12 tournament.
The Golden Bears also played at Rutgers to open the season and faced Ohio State at home – both close losses – so they are used to boisterous crowds.
“I think that allows our players to go in with the mentality that they’ve been-there, done-that a little bit. Obviously Notre Dame provides unique challenges but that’s what I like about our team,” Gottlieb said of a mix of veterans and freshmen, including starting point guard Brittany Boyd.
The Irish (31-3) are 16-1 at the Purcell Pavilion, but McGraw said her team has played much the same on the road this season.
“We’ve played pretty consistently. We don’t do anything different on the road than we would at home,” she said. “I think it is an advantage just because of your fans, the comfort level, staying in your beds. The girls are in class today. It’s more like a home game.”
Another factor could be that none of Cal’s current players had been in an NCAA tournament game before the Iowa victory, and Notre Dame was in the national championship game a year ago.
“We just hope experience plays a role in it,” McGraw said.
The game’s pivotal matchup might not be inside, but out front where Boyd could match up with Notre Dame star Skylar Diggins.
Boyd displayed her all-around skills in the win over Iowa with 15 points, eight assists, six rebounds and six steals. Diggins did much the same. Although she took only six shots and finished with seven points – 10 under her average – she led the team with nine rebounds and dished off six assists.
“She still controlled the game,” Gottlieb said. “The difference between No. 1 seeds and everybody else it that there are no lapses, not letups. We need to minimize our mistakes so they don’t get anything easy and that is particularly true with Skylar because she will make you pay.”