The Golden Bears arrived in Eugene, Ore., on Feb. 24 with a mandate from Mike Montgomery: "Coach says we need to win two out of these next three games," senior Markhuri Sanders-Frison said two days earlier.
Cal (15-13, 8-8 Pac-10) took a big first step, rallying from a 16-point first-half deficit to beat Oregon 81-71 at the new Matthew Knight Arena.
The victory was the Bears' seventh straight over the Ducks, who had won six of their previous eight games. More important, it pushed Cal closer to its big-picture goal.
"We just want to keep on playing," Sanders-Frison said. "We want to aim for the stars and land on the clouds.
"We'd love to be in that March Madness," he said, referring to the NCAA Tournament. "If it's the NIT, as long as we're playing, I think this group of guys will be satisfied with that."
Although the NIT technically does not require a winning record, the reality is Cal won't get a sniff from the 32-team event without one. The Bears can clinch a winning season with a win Feb. 26 at Oregon State (10-16, 5-10).
The Bears crushed the Beavers 85-57 last month in Berkeley, but Oregon State beat Stanford 87-80 on Feb. 24 and will be fired up Feb. 26 for Senior Day at Gill Coliseum.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: Jorge Gutierrez continues to be hottest player in the Pac-10. It just took him 20 minutes to find his rhythm Feb. 24 at Oregon.
Coming off a career-high 34-point performance against UCLA, Gutierrez entered the Oregon game as the highest-scoring player in the Pac-10 for the month of February, averaging 22.2 points per game.
He scored just seven points in the first half at Oregon, and the Bears trailed by as many as 16 points. But he went for 16 points after intermission and Cal outscored the Ducks 47-26 in the second half. Gutierrez, who scored in double figures for the ninth consecutive game, also had five assists.
His teammates have great regard for the junior guard from Mexico. "There's no one in the league like him at all," Markhuri Sanders-Frison said of Gutierrez. "No one close."
NOTES & QUOTES
BY THE NUMBERS: 13 -- Points scored by junior G Jorge Gutierrez in the final 22.6 seconds of regulation and in overtime of the Bears' 76-72 win over UCLA on Feb. 19.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Wow, that's the best game I've ever seem Jorge play. He played phenomenal. He was so aggressive. He really took us on his back tonight." -- Cal sophomore PG Brandon Smith, after teammate Jorge Gutierrez scored a career-high 34 points against UCLA on Feb. 19.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
KEY MATCHUPS: The Bears lost by double digits in their two previous visits to Gill Coliseum, but they easily solved Oregon State's 1-3-1 zone defense in Berkeley last month. Harper Kamp scored 18 points and Cal logged its most decisive win of the conference season through Feb. 20, winning 85-57.
FUTURES MARKET: Freshman SG Jeff Powers got his second consecutive start in the USC game on Feb. 17 because freshman Allen Crabbe still was not fully recovered from his concussion. After totaling 27 points in two games at Washington the previous weekend, Powers had just 10 points on 3-for-10 shooting against the Trojans, including 1-for-6 from 3-point range.