Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb was not sure whether to talk about the elephant in the room with her players. The five-game losing streak heading into Friday's home game against Arizona State had put the Bears in jeopardy of not making the NCAA Tournament, a situation that had seemed impossible when the Bears were 9-0 and ranked in the top 15 in the country.
So should she brief the team on the urgency of the situation, driving home the facit that Cal, then 14-11 overall and 5-9 in the Pac-12, desperately needed some big wins to get into the NCAA Tourmanent entering Friday's home game against No. 17 Arizona State? Or would such a discussion mitigate some of the laser focus the team needed for the task at hand.
Coaches typically shy away from presenting big-picture scenarios to players, instead preaching the trite "one game at a time" mantra to keep the attention on one game and one opponent. But the NCAA Tournament situation was so apparent that Gottlieb used a halfway measure, alluding to the Bears' NCAA Tournament situation without focusing on it.
The carrot of an NCAA Tournament berth can be a motivating factor, but not if it erodes some of the focus needed to beat the next opponent. Presumably Gottlieb struck the right balance because the Bears came up with a 69-60 win over No. 17-ranked Arizona State that significantly helped the Bears' chances of landing an NCAA Tournament berth.