BERKELEY -- The atmosphere inside Haas Pavilion's Club Room was one of eager anticipation, perhaps even relaxed suspense, as the Cal women's basketball team waited to learn its postseason fate Monday afternoon. Observers milled around the room, munching on fruit, cheese and chicken wings, just waiting for the NCAA Tournament Selection Show to begin.

And then there was Joanne Boyle. The Bears' third-year coach sat in a chair with her hands firmly clasped in her lap, nervously tapping her feet as things began unfolding on the big screen television in front of her.

"You just never know what's going to happen with the committee," she said.

It didn't take long for Boyle's nervous energy to turn into pure elation. The Bears received a No. 3 seed in the Greensboro Region and will play No. 14 seed San Diego of the West Coast Conference in the first round Saturday. That gave Boyle a big reason to smile, but what really had her going was discovering Cal only has to go to Stanford's Maples Pavilion to do it.

"Just being able to play at home is huge," Boyle said. "We've traveled the past two years, so we know what traveling does, how it takes a toll on you. Now, we get to be at home and be in our comfort zone.

"Overall, it's a really good situation for us."

It couldn't have gotten much better. The Bears (26-6) are in the midst of the best season in program history and were rewarded with their highest seed ever. Now, all they have to do is pick up that elusive first-round win against the Toreros (19-12). Under Boyle, Cal has made three consecutive trips to the Big Dance, but the squad has yet to advance out of the opening round. The Bears were knocked out by Notre Dame last season and St. John's in 2006, both losses coming in Pennsylvania.

Cal is 1-5 all-time in NCAA Tournament play, with its only win coming in 1993 against Kansas. But the Bears are hoping to parlay this season's string of success into yet another breakthrough.

"We want to show the world who we are," junior forward Ashley Walker said. "For the juniors, it's not new to us. Hopefully that's an advantage. ... It's amazing to see us do what we've done, but we still feel we can do better. We want to showcase our talent and put West Coast basketball on the map."

Junior center Devanei Hampton put it another way.

"We've broken all the records that have been set for Cal," she said. "But that's not enough for us. We want to get more."

The Bears are also hoping to use the NCAA Tournament as a new beginning for a season that ended with a rather loud thud. Despite residing in first place for most of the year, Cal blew the chance to nab a share of its first-ever Pac-10 regular-season title with a 74-66 loss at Washington. Then, the Bears struggled to redeem themselves at last week's conference tournament, falling 56-35 to Stanford in the championship game.

"We stuck together as a team and decided we didn't want that to be the lasting memory of our season," sophomore guard Lauren Greif said. "Hopefully we'll get over that pretty quickly, and I think our team already has. ... We're only guaranteed 40 minutes from here on out. We knew we were going to be in the tournament, but it's where we go from here. We have 40 more minutes to take care of business and continue."

Contact Jennifer Starks at jstarks@bayareanewsgroup.com.