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Seattle • Cal women's basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb has been waiting across two leagues and 1,456 days for her chance at conference tournament redemption against Utah's Lynne Roberts.
Gottlieb's UC Santa Barbara team came into the 2010-2011 Big West conference tournament as the co-regular season champion and No. 2 seed before Roberts' No. 7-seeded Pacific went on a 14-point run at the end of the game to eliminate the Gauchos in the first round.
"I'll have to text her; I owe her one in the conference tournament because I think last time, she got us," Gottlieb said with a laugh.
Roberts hasn't gone any easier on Gottlieb in her first year at Utah (16-13, 8-10), beating Cal (13-16, 4-14) twice this season en route to the No. 7 seed of the Pac-12 women's tournament setting up a rematch with the No. 10 seed Golden Bears here Thursday at 12:30 p.m.
Roberts, whose Utah team was picked in the preseason to finish 11th in the conference, said the beauty of conference tournaments is getting that third shot.
"That's when the coaching comes into play the players' ability to really lock in on nuances of teams with strengths and weaknesses," she said. "Everyone raises their game whether it's coaches or players a little bit higher in those conference tournaments."
Roberts complimented the size and talent of Gottlieb's teams, but said the Utes have an edge in depth after injuries hampered the growth of Cal's young roster all season. Cal freshman and Pac-12 freshman of the year Kristine Anigwe will be a top priority for Utah's defense after averaging 20 points per game in the regular season.
"We've had some success forcing tempo and wearing them out a little bit because of [the] fatigue factor. We're going to have to try to do that again," Roberts said. "They're very dangerous, they have some long athletes."
Utah finished the regular season with a 75-69 road win over Washington State behind the career-high 28 points from senior Dani Rodriguez a solid performance to parlay into the tournament.
"I feel like it keeps adding to the confidence aspect. I know I can get it done and when my team needed me to, I scored the basketball," Rodriguez said.
Junior guard Paige Crozon, who scored 28 alongside Rodriguez in the season finale, said she prefers the Utes have the earliest tip of the day in the tournament.
"You don't want to wait around; sometimes that's hard when you play a 7 o'clock game because you're nervous the entire day," Crozon said. "When you wake up, it's game time and time to go, so I'm excited for it."
Gottlieb complimented Roberts' renovation at Utah bringing the uptempo offense and pressure defense she used at Pacific to Salt Lake City.
"She's changed the mentality of that team, made them believe they can all score and made them believe they can all play at a fast pace," the Cal coach said.
As for Thursday's tournament "rematch" four years later, Gottlieb knows the pressure is on Cal to keep up.
"We're the team with two losses [to theUtes]. We should have the most to learn from the film," she said. "We have to come out ready to do something differently because obviously we weren't successful the first two times."
No. 7 Utah vs. No. 10 Cal
P At KeyArena, Seattle
Tipoff • Thursday, 12:30 p.m.
TV • Pac-12. Radio • 700 AM
Records • Cal (13-16, 4-14); Utah (16-13, 8-10)
Series history • Cal leads 11-6
Last meeting • Utah 72, Cal 66 (Feb. 19)
About the Golden Bears • Cal was picked to finish fourth in the conference preseason poll, but struggled throughout the season to finish with the 10th best record. … Freshman Kristine Anigwe finished the season as the Pac-12's second leading scorer. … Cal is 2-1 against the Utes in postseason play all-time, but the team's will meet for the first time in the Pac-12 tournament Thursday.
About the Utes • The Utes swept the regular season series with an 84-79 win in Berkeley and a 72-66 win in Salt Lake City. … Utah out-rebounded its opponents in 22 of 29 regular season games. … The Utes are 6-0 this season in games decided by five points or less, 13-0 when scoring at least 70 points.