BL: Michelle, let’s start with California, more commonly known as Berkeley, although “commonly known” doesn’t really apply. What should we know about the surprising Golden Bears?
MS: They won 30 games for the first time in school history. They shared the Pac-12 title with Stanford. They’ve got a very good guard in Layshia Clarendon, who’s probably one of the most, maybe, unknown senior stars in the country, who’s a really good player. They’ve got a lot of good parts and pieces, and there’s good reason that they’re here.
BL: And virtually all of them are from the same area code.
MS: Well, they’re all Californians. Thirteen kids on the roster, and 12 of them are from California. A few from the North, a few from the South, but this is a home-grown team for Cal. You know, a lot of them played AAU together or at least ran across each other during the AAU circuit when they were in high school. They know each other. They’ve got one player, their starting point guard Brittany Boyd, who is directly from Berkeley High down the street, so this absolutely a home-grown team.
BL: Cal is a No. 2 seed. They will face No. 5 Louisville, the lowest seed still remaining. Tell us a little about the sisters Schimmel, and how they could help propel the Cardinals to the championship game.
MS: The Schimmel sisters are guards, which many people will tell you, guard play gets you a long way in the NCAA tournament. And they’ve had a great tournament. Shoni Schimmel is the older sister, she’s a junior, and she’s fearless. You might even say a little bit cocky, but I think that works for her. Her younger sister, Jude, is a very nice player who seems to really be coming out of her shell a little bit this tournament. She had a great game against Tennessee. These girls have a really interesting story. They grew up on an Indian reservation in Oregon. Their mother is a basketball coach, and she moved them to Portland and off the reservation to have them have a chance to be recruited. But they have a huge base of support in the Native American community all over the country when they play. They’re great players and they do not lack for confidence, so I think they think they can win this tournament
BL: Shoni Schimmel won me over when they beat Baylor, and she said, “Yeah, she’s Brittney Griner, but I’m Shoni Schimmel.”
MS: That’s Shoni (laughs). You saw that scoop shot a million times that she pulled off against Griner. She has no fear.
BL: The other semifinal game is a matchup of No. 1 seeds — Notre Dame and Connecticut. Is this a case of immovable object meeting unstoppable object or something like that, or does somebody actually win this game?
MS: Notre Dame’s won all three games they’ve played this year, and they have played some overtime, double-overtime games that, in women’s basketball probably are a classic at this point. So now it’s Notre Dame three, Connecticut zero, and I think Connecticut is playing awfully well – not that Notre Dame isn’t, but let’s see if the law of averages starts to show itself here.
BL: How do you think the tourney will shake out on Sunday and then in the finals on Tuesday?
MS: I think Connecticut gets Notre Dame this time. I just think the four times in one season with a team as talented as Connecticut, I think Connecticut wins that game. And then I think, honestly, Connecticut is just too talented for either of the two teams on the other side of the bracket.