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February 21, 2011

Gutierrez scored a career-high 34 to snap losing streak

BERKELEY -- When the Cal student section at Haas Pavilion stormed the court after the Bears' 76-72 win on Sunday night, it wasn't for the fact that it was the first time that Cal had defeated UCLA at home in its past seven tries. It wasn't for the fact that the win snapped the Bruins' six-game run. It wasn't even for the fact that the Bears finally returned to the win column for the first time since Feb. 3.

No, they rushed the court with one purpose: to give one big group hug to junior guard Jorge Gutierrez, who scored a career-high 34 points, dished out a game-high six assists, pulled down three rebounds, swiped three steals and even turned in a block for the Bears (14-13, 7-8 in the Pac-10) as they downed UCLA in overtime.

"It was just about the team tonight," Gutierrez said. "We needed this game. We all played hard together."

Head coach Mike Montgomery praised his humble sparkplug, who eschewed the media room after the game in favor of spending time with his family.

"Jorge was great," Montgomery said. "We've had people have performances against us, and it's good to see us have a performance against somebody else. He's got family here. Jorge doesn't like to speak. He really is shy, but his family is here, and I think he wanted to visit with his family, but there's also a certain amount of not being comfortable in a situation like this, and that's OK with me if he can play like that."

Sophomore point guard Brandon Smith hit two clutch threes -- one with 6:50 left in the second and another with 15 seconds left in overtime - gave all the credit to his off-guard Gutierrez, who's ability to drive the lane and hit his shots opened up the corner.

"Jorge, I mean, wow," Smith gushed. "That's the best game that I've ever seen Jorge play. He played phenomenally tonight. He was just so aggressive and really took us on his back tonight. Guys in the locker room were joking around earlier, watching Youtube video, and these commentators are talking about Marshawn Lynch taking his team on his back, and it's funny, because after that performance tonight, that's really what (Gutierrez) did. He took us on his back."

In the overtime period, Gutierrez shot 3-of-5 from the floor and 3-of-4 from the charity stripe, hitting two straight freebies with one second left on the clock and dishing out a key assist to Smith on the three from the right corner with 15 seconds to go.

"The whole time during overtime, I had a feeling that I was going to get another three," said Smith, who scored eight points on 3-of-6 shooting and 2-of-2 from beyond the arc. "When he drove, I made sure I was in the corner, I had good spacing and I was ready to knock it down when he passed it to me. And then, when he passed it to me, it wasn't right in my shot pocket, and I saw the guy closing out, and I stuck it. I just had one of those gut feeling that tonight may come down to a game-winning shot, and I believed in myself and I believed that I would hit it as soon as I got it."

Cal staked itself to an 11-point halftime lead by taking advantage of a dismal first half from the Bruins (19-8, 10-4), who shot 7-of-24 (29.2 percent) from the field and a harrowing 1-for-12 from beyond the three-point line.

The Bears played a hard man defense that seemed to really spark the team, particularly the ever-aggressive Gutierrez.

"I really thought the combination of things, one, I was sitting in the locker room and thought, 'OK, we'll zone, we'll try to do a little pressure-back zone, which we saw them have some problems with,' but then I just said, 'You know what, let's just go play man. Let's just get 'em,'" Montgomery said. "So, when they came back in at the 10-minute mark, I said, 'OK guys, we're going to pick them up and play man.' Their eyes kind of lit up. Jorge kind of smiled. I challenged them. I said, 'You want to go challenge? Let's go get these guys. Let's go pick 'em up.' I think that really helped with our aggressiveness."

Junior power forward Harper Kamp completely shut down star scorer Reeves Nelson, limiting him to just one point in the first half.

"Reeves comes hard at the basket and I don't know if I want to run full-speed and take him on," Montgomery said. "We took two or three charges, and I think that effected him a little bit, but Harper did a good job. He's a good defender."

But even holding the Bruins to just 18 points had its drawbacks. On the offensive end, Cal couldn't seem to get much going despite good penetration, thanks to the defense of UCLA's post players Joshua Smith, Brendan Lane, Tyler Honeycutt and Anthony Stover.

"The other thing that I think is probably -- just in terms of an obvious thing -- was having (Allen) Crabbe on the floor," Montgomery said. "That forces them to open the court up a little bit because he's such a good shooter that the guy guarding him is going to stay away and it opens it up. Jorge is a very good penetrator, did a good job curling. I think when their bigs got into a little bit of foul trouble, that helped. But, gosh, in the first half, we got whatever we wanted. Jorge was getting in and dropping it, Brandon dropped it, Crabbe dropped it; we just weren't finishing against their bigs. But, I think it really gave us some confidence."


For the first time in two games, the Bears had the services of true freshman Allen Crabbe, who was recovered enough from his first concussion to give Cal 43 minutes, though he only shot 3-for-11 from the field.

"I felt good. I've gotten a lot of rest, taking it slow and making sure the symptoms were all gone," Crabbe said. "We did everything that we had to do to make the concussion go away. On Thursday, I went to my first practice, and then yesterday I went through my first full-contact practice, so it was about yesterday when I knew I could go."

Crabbe went right into the fray early, taking a hard charge from Nelson down low with just over 16 minutes left in the first half. Montgomery was more than satisfied that his star frosh wasn't the least bit gun-shy.

"It felt good to be out there with my team tonight, after missing the last two games," Crabbe said. "It just felt good to be out there, knowing that I could help my team win."

After the break, the Bruins went small, putting Honeycutt at the power forward spot and leaving Joshua Smith alone in the low post. That strategy allowed Honeycutt to step back and hit two big threes that cut Cal's lead from 13 down to seven with 16:12 remaining in regulation.

"The thing that was different is that we actually took some charges," Montgomery said. "We haven't done that much. The interesting thing was that Allen Crabbe was the first guy who did it, and he's a guy who just had a concussion, and he stepped up and took a charge."

UCLA continued to claw back, tying the game at 46 with 8:04 remaining on a trey from Lane. The Bears pulled away several times, but the Bruins kept reeling them back in.

Up by three with just six seconds left in regulation, Montgomery took two straight time outs to discuss strategy for the final series, focusing on Malcolm Lee, who had already scored 12 points 3-of-10 shooting and 6-of-6 from the line.

"We tried to foul, and that's the thing that was frustrating. We actually changed our strategy. We took the second timeout after the timeout and the coaches were saying, 'Let's foul,'" Montgomery said. "We wanted to cushion them down the floor, see if we could make them use as much time as they could, and then at some point, we wanted to foul. Obviously, we were up three, feeling like they were going to shoot a one and one, knowing that the obvious strategy at that point would be to make the first, miss the second, try to rebound and get a shot, which, you could lose, but we decided to go for it."

Center Markhuri Sanders-Frison -- who finished the game with 12 points and seven boards in 37 minutes -- was set to guard Nelson down low, and Crabbe was assigned to guard Lee, but failed to foul the 6-foot-4 junior guard. Honeycutt in-bounded the ball to Lee, who went right at Crabbe and fired a trey from the top of the arc, which bounced off the top of the rim, hung in the air and then swished right in to send the game to overtime -- the third time that the Bears have gone to bonus basketball to settle a contest.

"Actually, Markhuri tried to foul Reeves Nelson on the side," Montgomery said. "He went for the ball and they didn't call it, but at that point there were 3.3 seconds, so that played more into the strategy from the standpoint that, then, if they in-bound it, and you immediately foul, there's 2.2 (seconds left) and not enough time to do anything if we can get the rebound. It was there, but we just fell asleep at the wheel. Then, he made it, and I was not happy."

Brandon Smith had a sinking feeling when that three fell, as the scenario was all-too-similar to the one that touched off a three-OT marathon against Arizona two weeks ago.

"We've been here before," Smith said. "It just seems like every game comes down to one of those plays, and it's a bummer that he hit it, but right when we headed into overtime, Markhuri said, 'C'mon guys! Let's do this! This is our win!' I think there was just a determination amongst the team that we were going to pull out this win tonight, and that's what happened in overtime."

The Bears went on to outscore the Bruins 16-12 in the extra period, with Gutierrez doing the bulk of the heavy-lifting. After Lazeric Jones hit a long two from the top of the key to open the stanza, Gutierrez nailed a turn-around jumper from the mid-post. Then, he came up with a steal, got tripped up at mid-court by Nelson, recovered, drove the lane and laid it in to turn the volume up several notches on a Haas Pavilion crowd 9,688-strong.

After Lee hit two free throws on Gutierrez's second personal foul, Gutierrez came back with a left-to-right slash, curled in and hit the lay-up with a nifty tuck-under move.

"I was really tired, but I knew my team needed me," Gutierrez said. "I knew they needed my help, so I just kept shooting it. I never looked at the scoreboard. I just kept shooting it, trying to get this win for my team."

With the game tied at 68 with 1:33 left, Gutierrez took the ball up top and drove on Joshua Smith - all of eight inches taller and 110 pounds heavier than the junior out of Chihuaua, Mex. - and drew the foul. Gutierrez hit his first free throw, then missed his second off the front of the rim. Kamp came in, got the board, kicked it back out to Gutierrez up top, who swung the ball to Brandon Smith. Smith dished it back to Gutierrez on the right, who curled in and tossed up a prayer that fell short. But Sanders-Frison was right there for the put-back to put the Bears back up 71-68.

With the stadium on its feet and Cal up 71-70 after a two on the right side by Nelson, Jorge took the ball at half-court, drove the right side of the paint and dished it to Brandon Smith for the fateful three.

Notebook
-- Cal's win over UCLA was the first at Haas Pavilion since a 76-62 victory on Jan. 24, 2006.

-- Gutierrez's career-high 34 points eclipses his old mark of 25, set against the Wildcats on Feb. 5. He also ran his double-figure scoring streak to eight games. During that stretch, Gutierrez has averaged 20.8 points per game. He has scored 20 points or more five times this season, including three of his past five games

-- Gutierrez's 34 points marked the third time this year that a Bears player scored at least 30 in a game. Crabbe had 30 against Washington State on Jan. 13 and Kamp had 33 against the Wildcats on Feb. 5. All three games went at least one overtime period.

-- Sunday was Cal's ninth game decided by three points or less or in overtime this season. The Bears are 4-5 in those contests.

-- In the first half, Cal outscored UCLA 11-0 on second-chance opportunities.

-- The Bears were up 29-18 at the half - the first time that Cal has held a double-digit lead at the break since they were up, 47-35 against Oregon on Jan. 29. The Bears are 11-1 when leading at the half this year.

-- Sunday marked Cal's third overtime game this season. Earlier, the Bears downed the Cougars 88-81 in one OT on Jan. 13 and lost to Arizona 107-105 in three extra periods on Feb. 5.

-- This was the fifth overtime game between the two UC schools since 2003.


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