Cal's women's basketball squad has a Sunday date in the NCAA's Final Four -- the first time the team has ever gone so far in the annual tournament. And many longtime fans, along with recent converts to the cause, are rallying around the history-making hoopsters.
Hundreds rallied at Haas Pavilion at UC Berkeley on Thursday to send off the team on its Final Four trip to New Orleans. They'll play the Louisville Cardinals on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. PDT, a game that will be shown live on ESPN.
"It is a huge deal for the program. It is just so exciting," said Cynthia Cooke, who played for Cal from 1981 to 1985. "The girls are so dedicated and so committed and out there playing hard, and I'm looking forward to it. I'm going to New Orleans, and I'll see them there."
"I'm not much of a sports person, but I think it's exciting that it's the women," new fan Melanie King said. "I hope it brings more people out."
Allie Payar brought her 2-year-old daughter and one of her friends to the rally.
"We were fans already," Payar said, "but I think there's certainly a huge appeal to bringing your young daughters out and seeing such an amazing representation of what women can accomplish."
Coach Gottlieb: 'Just be Cal'
Bears' Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb has been with the team for a mere two years. Before that she had coached only five years—three as head coach for UC Santa Barbara and two as a Cal assistant.
"This is the most inspirational, incredible group of young women I've ever been around," Gottlieb told KQED after Cal's win against Georgia to advance to the Final Four. "I say that sincerely. They make me in awe every day."
Gottlieb said she's aware that her team is breaking new ground for Cal athletics, but added that her players are also just having fun.
"I always just say, 'Just be us, just be Cal,' " Gottlieb said. "This group is so unique. They're so fun to be around—great individual stories. And so I think there is an appreciation for making history, but also a sense of living in the moment and just being us."
Mayors Place Their Bets
In anticipation of a win Sunday, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates has wagered 10 bottles of Berkeley wine against Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer's 10 bottles of Kentucky bourbon, according to Bay City News.
"I can already taste the bourbon now," Bates said in a statement released Thursday.