With familiarity comes comfort.
That's partly why the Fresno State women's basketball team feels comfortable opening up the NCAA Tournament against Cal.
Though the No. 2-seeded Golden Bears (28-3) have enjoyed an historic season that includes the most wins in school history, No. 15 Fresno State (24-8) hardly seems intimidated by the daunting task in the first round of the Spokane Regional in Lubbock, Texas. Opening tipoff is 1:20 p.m. Saturday.
"If we focus on us and what we do, we'll be fine," Fresno State guard Ki-Ki Moore said. "We can compete with anybody. We've been playing well lately. We've been to this stage before. We've played other Pac-12 teams.
"It's not going to be easy, but it's exciting. I think we'll be ready for the challenge."
And what a challenge -- a 15th-seeded team has never advanced in the Tournament's history.
In this case, the Bulldogs face a Cal team that was ranked No. 6 in the nation, won the first Pac-12 regular season title in program history and secured the program's highest seeding for the NCAAs. Cal also thumped Fresno State 70-47 during the last meeting, in the first round of the 2009 NCAA Tournament.
That game marked the Bulldogs' second appearance in an NCAA run that's now stretched to six straight years, although Fresno State -- which played four Pac-12 teams this season, going 2-2 -- is still searching for the program's first Tournament victory.
"What's pretty special about Fresno State is our experience," first-year coach Raegan Pebley said. "It's that belief now that we not only belong, but we are going to move forward. We are going to achieve our goal, and understanding the nerves and how that feels like. You can't get rid of the nerves but you know how to manage the nerves.
"Knowing what type of competition you're going to face in that first round, whether you're a 12 seed or a 15 seed. You're going to have to come to play. This group really understands that."
The Bulldogs are led by star player Moore, the 5-foot-7 junior guard who averages 17.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.1 steals per game. Moore announced just prior to the regular-season finale that she would not return to Fresno State for her senior season, citing injuries and pain. She then guided Fresno State to three straight postseason victories to win the Mountain West Conference and was named tournament MVP.
In addition, she has a few personal motivations going in to Saturday. The San Francisco native was recruited by Cal out of high school, has friends on the Bears team, started her career in the Pac-12 (at Washington State before transferring to Fresno State two years ago), and seems to relish the notion of facing tougher competition.
"I think we've had a chance all the times the previous years we've been to the NCAAs to win," Moore said. "This time of year, it's a grind. It's a grind for everyone. Everyone is grinding hard, trying to get that extra game, get that last win, and just play intense, knowing it could end at any time."
Should the Bulldogs advance, Fresno State will play against the winner between No. 7 Texas Tech and No. 10 South Florida on Monday in Lubbock.
"Our confidence is high going in," Bulldogs forward Rosie Moult said. "We're not going here just to play. We want to win."
Ready for the Bears
The Bulldogs -- who have won seven straight and 14 out of their past 16 games -- head into their NCAA first-round game against Cal led by Ki-Ki Moore, the 5-foot-7 junior guard who averages 17.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.1 steals per game.
"These are not players that are unaccustomed to being in the NCAA Tournament; they have been here a couple times," Bears coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. "I don't think they are going to be overwhelmed."
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