Texas' McGee-Stafford, Cal's Gray present key NCAA matchup
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) Growing up in Los Angeles, Reshanda Gray and Imani McGee-Stafford crossed paths as opponents with their high school and travel teams. Later, they saw each other in USA Basketball.
When Gray leads California to take on McGee-Stafford and Texas (23-10) in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday night, these two will present the marquee matchup in the paint. Lindsay Gottlieb, coach of the fourth-seeded Golden Bears (24-9), was already busy strategizing her defense for McGee-Stafford moments after Cal beat Wichita State on Friday.
McGee-Stafford referenced Gray's toughness more than once to describe the Pac-12 Player of the Year's game, even back in the day on the courts of Southern California. Now, the 6-foot-7 McGee-Stafford has a four-inch height advantage on Gray.
''As aggressive as she is on the court, she's really sweet, really nice,'' McGee-Stafford said. ''She's always been much stronger. I think I caught up to her now. We'll see.''
Gray gives props to McGee-Stafford for her poetry talents, a creative outlet that helped save McGee-Stafford after multiple suicide attempts before college. McGee-Stafford discussed being molested and the suicide attempts in a recent ESPN documentary.
While the attention will be on these star post players, Longhorns coach Karen Aston figures it might come down to the supporting casts to determine which program moves on to the Albany Regional next week.
Here are some things to watch in the Texas-Cal matchup, the seventh meeting between the schools:
MCGEE-STAFFORD'S STRIDES: McGee-Stafford hadn't started the previous nine games before her 24-point, 15-rebound performance while playing among the top five in Friday's 66-64 victory against Wichita State.
McGee-Stafford - who has used competitive poetry to find her voice and confidence - missed the first eight games recovering from surgery to reinforce the tibia bone in her lower left leg. She's progressed in recent weeks and earned her spot with impressive play during the Big 12 Tournament and on the practice floor.
Aston looks back and is glad she showed patience with the star post player, who along with Kelsey Lang will have to protect the paint against Gray and Co.
''She has a different demeanor now,'' Aston said of McGee-Stafford. ''I saw that her preparation was different, her practice habits are different. She's getting to the point she realizes there isn't much time left in her career.''
PIZZA PROMISE: When Cal supporter and Haas School of Business lecturer Steve Etter purchased 250 tickets for students on Friday, Gottlieb promised to do her part by buying them all pizza. After she tweeted out her deal, 245 of those spots were filled for Friday's first-round win.
She will do whatever is needed Sunday to draw a nice, loud crowd again.
''Being involved in getting people here is something I want to do,'' Gottlieb said.
FINAL HOME GAME: Playing in her hometown of Berkeley, Cal's Brittany Boyd figures she had 50-60 people in the stands cheering for her against Wichita State.
''Fifty that are actually related and 200 more that say they're related,'' Gottlieb quipped.
Not that Boyd is thinking much about playing her final home game Sunday.
''No extra emotions,'' she said. ''Haas has been great for my last four years - the fan support, the family support, the community support has just been great.''
HOME-COURT ATMOSPHERE: Texas played on Maryland's home floor in the second round last March, so the Longhorns were looking forward to playing in front of Cal's home crowd.
''We can take a lot of things away from playing at Maryland,'' guard Empress Davenport said. ''They had a big crowd, and we just had to block them out at times.''
While attendance was 2,079 on Friday night, Cal's cheering section was loud - with Sunday night likely to generate a bigger draw.
PICTURE, PLEASE: Before she stepped off the podium, Davenport asked for a quick photo alongside McGee-Stafford. They giggled, then headed back to the Texas locker room.
Both are juniors, so they're hoping this won't be their last NCAA trip.
''They're still kids, aren't they?'' Aston said, smiling.