Cal looks to shake off losing streak

Senior guard Jorge Gutierrez named Pac-12 Player and Defensive Player of the Year, but has struggled during losses to Colorado and Stanford.

LOS ANGELES – After suffering two devastating losses to end the regular season, denying them the conference title, California clearly needed to shake things up before the Pacific-12 Conference Tournament.

Of course, the Bears probably hoped to accomplish that with a couple solid practices before arriving at Staples Center, not the pair of early-morning earthquakes that gave the East Bay a wake-up call in the early morning hours Monday.

Then again, the magnitude-4.0 and 3.5 tremors came just 12 hours after the 75-70 loss at Stanford and 12 hours later several Cal players would be recognized for various all-conference honors, highlighted by guard Jorge Gutierrez being named Pac-12 Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.

Gutierrez, the senior from Chihuahua, Mexico, became the first player in conference history to be so honored in the same season after averaging 12.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.0 rebounds per game.

However, he has been in a slump during Cal's only losing streak of the season. Gutierrez was held scoreless at Colorado and had just eight points on 3-of-8 shooting at Stanford. Cal head coach Mike Montgomery said, "He is really fighting some demons right now. He is not able to get much done and is frustrated. We need Jorge."

Gutierrez must begin his revival Thursday in the quarterfinal round (6 p.m., Fox Sports Net) against either Stanford or Arizona State.

The Cardinal and Sun Devils will play Wednesday evening in a first-round contest.

Cal (23-8, 13-5 Pac-12) has had to rely on a consistent, if not flashy, formula all season long to make up for inherent issues. Aside from limited contributions off the bench from walk-on forward Robert Thurman and guard Brandon Smith, all five starters have been put in the position of not having an off night.

They each have to deliver something and have done so, demonstrated by the presence of the starting lineup on one of the all-conference teams voted on by coaches.

Gutierrez and sophomore guard Allen Crabbe were named first-team All-Pac-12, while senior forward Harper Kamp made the second-team. Sophomore point guard Justin Cobbs was an honorable mention, while forward David Kravish placed on the All-Freshman team.

But that same lineup cannot overcome the 9-of-40 shooting from Gutierrez and Cobbs posted against Colorado and Stanford, especially when faced with massive rebounding and bench scoring deficits.

More importantly, Cal must deliver a tenacious defensive effort every night. That didn't happen Sunday, drawing the most criticism from Montgomery and Kamp.

At Maples Pavilion with a chance to claim a share of the conference title, there were glaring breakdowns everywhere. Stanford had 20 points off turnovers and dominated the glass, including collecting two offensive rebounds in the final minute to hold on. Defensive rotations were lazy, as forward Andrew Zimmerman hit two wide-open three-pointers – the senior had been 1-of-7 from long range the rest of the season – and another uncontested long jumper. The offense became too stagnant.

The game was, in short, a disaster.

It hurt given what was on the line, but doesn't erase what the team had accomplished. Perhaps Monday's announcements will remind Cal of that. Perhaps it will remind Gutierrez of what he had done so well before his slump.

And if that doesn't work, perhaps the fault lines of Southern California can provide one more wake-up call for Cal.

They certainly need something to shake things up before tournament time.


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