When you have nobody graduate from a team that went 25-10 and almost took down the eventual national runner-up, you kind of want to get back on the court as soon as possible.
"I think Talia (Caldwell) wanted to play the day we got back from South Bend," Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said.
It's been eight months of anticipation since the Bears fell to Notre Dame 73-62 in the second round of last season's NCAA Tournament. Cal was tied with the Fighting Irish at halftime of that game and it was one second-half run that lifted Notre Dame to the win. The Irish went on to play in the national title game before losing to Baylor.
"They've been committed to using the offseason to get better, but were definitely eager to get on the court," Gottlieb said. "There's a really good feel around the team right now."
The long wait finally ends Friday night when the Bears open the 2012-13 season against Lehigh at Haas Pavilion. Cal enters the season ranked 13th by the Associated Press and was picked to finish second behind Stanford in the preseason Pac-12 media poll.
"We're really excited to start this year," Gottlieb said. "When last year ended and we were in the locker room after Notre Dame, there was disappointment in not having won that game but there was a lot of optimism for the future of the program. As a group, we wanted to make sure that we were a team to be reckoned with this year, not simply because we were going to have everyone returning, but because the people returning would be better and collectively we would be better. I think that's what we'll see this year."
Cal is led by All-Pac-12 first team pick Layshia Clarendon, who could team with sophomore Brittany Boyd to form one of the country's most formidable backcourts this season. A starting point guard as a freshman, Boyd earned All-Pac-12 Freshman Team honors last year, as did forward Reshanda Gray. Now sophomores, Gottlieb says both players are ready to channel their considerable talents even more this season.
"Brittany and Reshanda were gamers," Gottlieb said. "They adapted to the college game very quickly. The fact they were able to make plays at the next level was remarkable. But I think now they have a better understanding of preparation. They have a better understanding of how to prepare to be a college athlete, and then their wonderful talents still come out."
Boyd also was named All-Pac-12 honorable mention last season, as was forward Gennifer Brandon.
Gottlieb said the team reached its goals last season in her first as Cal's head coach. Given the experience and talent on this year's team, those goals are now loftier.
"I don't think we're OK to be second anymore," Gottlieb said. "I don't think we're OK to be close. That was part of last year, re-establishing our identity. I think we're ready to start talking about what is the next level for us. That's becoming an elite team in women's college basketball and that's going deeper in the tournament. That's cutting down nets somewhere down the road."
The Bears hope that road this season leads to New Orleans, the site of the 2013 Final Four.