One more title to add to the versatile resume of sophomore guard Jorge Gutierrez. No longer just a defensive demon, emotional leader and all-Pac-10 player, Gutierrez also proved to be an accurate fortune teller after the Bears' 70-56 loss to USC in the quarterfinals of the Pac-10 tournament.
Asked how he expects the Bears to be a year from now, Gutierrez was having none of it.
"We're not done with this season yet. We've got a game next week, and we've got to focus on that game," he said. "I'm excited. As long as we keep playing, I'm excited."
Gutierrez put his money where his mouth was in the NIT opener, guiding the 18-14 Bears to the second round with 25 points, five rebounds, six assists, four steals and a block. His two free throws with 14.8 seconds remaining provided the final margin, 77-74.
And how did the Bears feel about their selection?
Pretty much as Gutierrez said they would.
"I think they see SC made the NCAA Tournament, and they're thinking what might have been," coach Mike Montgomery said. "But I think they were excited about it."
Montgomery has no issues with playing on, either. He loves this team, and why not? Picked to finish eighth in the Pac-10, the Bears overachieved their way to a fourth-place tie one year after losing four starters from their first conference championship team in 50 years.
This club has just one departing senior -- center Markhuri Sanders-Frison -- so each game is a chance to develop more experience and confidence for what should be a strong 2011-12 campaign.
Meanwhile, freshman guard Allen Crabbe is emerging as the Bears' offensive go-to guy. While most of his teammates struggled to score in the loss to USC, Crabbe scored 21 points. At one point during the second half, USC coach Kevin O'Neill turned to his assistants and asked, "Why didn't we recruit that guy?"
Crabbe entered the NIT having averaged 22.5 points over the Bears' past four games and scored 20 against Mississippi.
--This is Cal's seventh appearance in the NIT. The Bears won the 1999 title. Before this season, they played in the event most recently in 2008, losing to Ohio State in the second round in what turned out to be coach Ben Braun's final game after 12 seasons. Mike Montgomery won an NIT crown while coaching at Stanford in 1991.
COACH: Mike Montgomery, three years at Cal, third postseason appearance (first NIT)
KEYS TO VICTORY: The Bears are headed to Boulder, and Colorado has been excellent at home, including a win over Texas. The Bears hope to have rediscovered their offensive rhythm with 77 points in the first round of the NIT after being manhandled a bit in their rubber-match game vs. USC. Cal had scored at least 70 points in 10 of 11 previous games before being limited to 56 by the Trojans.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You look at teams that didn't make the (NCAA) Tournament, and you kind of go, 'Whoa.' Virginia Tech ... and I'm sure Saint Mary's is just sick. It's a good tournament field and a good challenge for us." -- Cal coach Mike Montgomery, on playing in the NIT along with several teams that just missed making the NCAA Tournament.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
vs. Colorado, March 18, NIT second round
KEY MATCHUPS: The Bears have to find a way to contain Colorado's superb guards. Colorado put an easy 88 points on the board in the first round behind 27 points from Alec Burks and 25 from Cory Higgins. The Bears have taken to a zone defense in recent weeks, and might try to use a 1-3-1 or 2-3 matchup zone to keep track of Colorado's slashing scorers.
--Junior G Jorge Gutierrez, named to the all-Pac-10 first team and all-defensive unit, had his worst came in weeks in the conference tournament defeat to USC. After averaging 19.2 points over his previous 11 games, Gutierrez shot 2-for-10 and had just four points to go with seven turnovers vs. the Trojans.
--Junior F Harper Kamp had three first-half shots blocked by USC's Nikola Vucevic and wound up 3-for-9 for six points, his lowest-scoring game since Nov. 26. Kamp had scored 20 points on 9-for-12 shooting against Stanford in his previous outing.
--Freshman F Richard Solomon came off the bench to deliver a solid performance in the loss to USC, totaling 11 points, six rebounds, three blocks and two steals in 20 minutes. It was his fourth double-digit scoring game of the season.