March 19, 2015

(AP) - California considers this the perfect opportunity to kick off another special NCAA Tournament run right at home.

Two years ago, Brittany Boyd and Reshanda Gray were part of Cal's first and only Final Four team.

Now as seniors who will soon be first-round picks in the WNBA draft, and hosting the first and second rounds at Haas Pavilion, there are high expectations for the fourth-seeded Golden Bears (23-9) as they open the Albany Regional against 13th-seeded Wichita State (29-4) on Friday.

''We're ready to make a deep run, we're in a good place and it feels right,'' coach Lindsay Gottlieb said Thursday.

Gray, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, leads the Bears with 17.5 points per game and averages 7.2 rebounds. Boyd averages 13.3 points and tops the team with 7.7 boards, 6.8 assists and 3.0 assists per game.

The Shockers, with a school record for wins, are riding a 12-game winning streak and have won 23 of their last 24.

''They're 29-4 for a reason,'' said Gottlieb, whose Bears lost in the Pac-12 tournament final to rival Stanford.

Cal will try to reach the NCAA Tournament's second round for the fourth straight season. When Gottlieb arrived in 2011, she spoke of taking the program to a new level where it would compete on the big stage every year.

''I'm really proud of our players for getting us here,'' Gottlieb said.

Wichita State is allowing opponents to average only 51.0 points, good for fourth in the nation, while doing so playing all five starters at least 31.3 minutes per game.

''We love the fact we have the momentum there as far as winning, and winning big games,'' Wichita State coach Jody Adams said.

Senior Alex Harden helped the Shockers win a third straight Missouri Valley Conference title by averaging team highs of 16.8 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 3.3 steals.

Harden had 27 points and Michaela Dapprich scored 24 in the MVC title game. Dapprich, selected as the conference player of the week for the last week of the regular season, has spent her first three seasons in the shadow of Harden, who was selected as tournament MVP after earning league player of the year honors.

''I've just been feeling strong,'' said Dapprich, who averages 12.4 points and 5.8 rebounds. ''I'd like to say I wait until the end of every season to play my best, but it just happens that way. Everything falls into place toward the end.''

This marks the Bears' first time playing an NCAA Tournament home game since the 1991-92 season. For Boyd, it will be her last hurrah right in her hometown of Berkeley.

''I'm actually very fortunate, very blessed,'' she said. ''This is just a great opportunity for the community. This is a great time of basketball.''

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