Cal makes the trek from Berkeley to New Orleans
Day 1: Thursday
Cal's trip to New Orleans began Thursday at Haas Pavilion, where a large crowd provided a raucous send-off for the program's first Final Four appearance. From campus, the team headed to Oakland Airport, which was adorned with signs and balloons recognizing the team's historic run.
The Cal band played the fight song for more than 90 people on the charter flight as they took off from Oakland en route to the Big Easy. While most players relaxed and slept, coach Lindsay Gottlieb spent her time in the air meticulously reviewing Louisville game tape on her laptop.
Upon arrival in New Orleans, a police escort took the team bus directly to a photo opportunity at Mardi Gras World, a large warehouse where floats are made and housed for the world-famous parade. From there the band and a group of well-wishers welcomed the team into the hotel lobby with signs, beads (of course) and a reception.
After a team dinner of gumbo and other New Orleans delicacies, the players were off to their rooms for the night while the coaching staff regrouped to watch more film and finalize the Louisville scout. Assistant coach Kai Felton ordered a pot of coffee at 10 p.m. to help her stay up through the night.
Friday brings a day of media commitments and practice.
Day 2: Friday
Still adjusting to the two-hour time change, the team met for breakfast at 10 a.m. followed by a 30-minute film session where the coaching staff talked about slowing down the high-powered Louisville
The full day of media commitments kicked off with Coach Gottlieb and a handful of players sitting down with ESPN for media shoots followed by NCAA radio interviews. After leaving the arena, the entire squad practiced at nearby Tulane University, honing in on the Louisville game plan and getting shots in. In addition to hard work on the court, there was no shortage of dancing or singing.
At 5 p.m. the team headed back to Mardi Gras World for a salute dinner with the other Final Four teams.
While the team was busy all day focusing on Sunday's matchup, Bears fans were seen enjoying jambalaya at local eateries and visiting numerous tourist highlights around the city including Jackson Square. The Cal logo is well represented in New Orleans this week, highlighted by several flags hanging on famed Bourbon Street spots.
Hotel curfew was 11 p.m. for the team to rest up for another full day Saturday.
Day 3: Saturday
Customary of Final Four Saturday, all four teams held 60-minute open practices for the fans. Cal appeared relaxed and energetic going through their shooting drills. With five minutes left, the team broke into a dance.
“We get to relish in one of the highest stages of women’s basketball right now, so we get to get out there and play again,” Cal junior Mikayla Lyles said at the NCAA Women's Final Four Press Conference. “We are one of four teams that get to keep practicing and playing on April 6th. It’s a blessing.”
The team went straight from open practice to an autograph session in the arena where fans waited in line to meet the players. Media interviews and a closed, off-site practice followed after with an emphasis on Louisville's physical play.
“Our team likes running, being aggressive and playing together," Cal senior Brittany Boyd said at the press conference. "Our chemistry is unbelievable off the court and that leads to our success on the court.”
Late afternoon was spent relaxing at the hotel with several student-athletes working on papers. Former Cal coach Joanne Boyle stopped by to congratulate the team, many of whom she recruited to play for the Golden Bears. After a few hours off, the last Louisville film session started at 6:15 p.m. followed by a team dinner with family and friends.
Day 4: Sunday
Game day is finally here. The Bears met at 9 a.m. for a team breakfast followed by a shootaround at New Orleans Arena where they went over Louisville's offensive sets. The theme at practice was for Cal to play their own brand of basketball and to handle the physicality of Louisville's squad.
The coaching staff heads into the semifinal game confident in their game plan and the team's ability to handle the biggest stage in college basketball. Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb commented, "This is a unique group who is comfortable in their skin. They are serious and balance school and basketball well with a whole lot of dancing and fun."
Cal seems to be the most relaxed squad still playing; the ladies have been laughing and dancing their way to the Big Easy which is in stark contrast to the business-as-usual attitude of Notre Dame and Connecticut.
The Cal community has embraced the fan and media-friendly team. Several hundred people lined the sidewalk outside the team hotel to cheer the players and coaches on before the game, including former Cal football standout and current New Orleans Saints DE Cameron Jordan.
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