LOS ANGELES — Apparently all Jorge Gutierrez needed to do was hit a jumper.
As soon as Gutierrez opened the second half with a jumper, he started playing like the Pac-12 Player of the Year — and all the pieces fell into place.
On Thursday evening, the senior guard scored a bucket nine seconds into the half to start a 13-5 run that would give the Cal men’s basketball a lead it would not give back. Four days after Stanford overpowered the Bears at Maples Pavilion to end the regular season, Cal returned the favor with a 77-71 triumph in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament at Staples Center.
Cal (24-8) will face Colorado in the semifinal Friday at 8:30 p.m.
“Going into halftime I said, ‘look, we turned it over 14 times,’” said Cal head coach Mike Montgomery. “‘We go 0-for-4 from the foul line and we’re only down seven. We do anything right and we can get back in this game.’
“We started sharing ball, we started trusting each other. And guys started making shots.”
Gutierrez finished with a diverse stat line that has become typical of him over the course of his senior campaign — 22 points, seven assists, six rebounds.
More than numbers, though, his energy and improvement in the second half helped get his teammates going after a turnover-prone first half that saw the Bears trailing by seven. Suddenly David Kravish’s long arms were grabbing every rebound and Justin Cobbs was powering up court in transition. Cal started looking like the team that was considered the Pac-12’s best bet for an NCAA tournament bid until it closed the regular season with losses at Colorado and Stanford.
“We really needed this win,” Montgomery said. “Losing three at the end of the year would not have been a good resume builder for the next tournament.”
After totaling eight points in the Bears’ last two games — both losses — Gutierrez rebounded with 19 second-half points. After the Bears’ initial spurt, Stanford’s Aaron Bright hit a 3-pointer to narrow Cal’s lead to three. So what did Gutierrez do? He answered with a trey of his own.
“That’s the kind of play we expect from Jorge,” said senior forward Harper Kamp, who tallied 17 points and seven rebounds. “It’s not surprising. He’s been able to do that all year. He’s got a lot of fight in him.”
The Bears, who average just under 12 turnovers a game, had a whopping 14 in a passive first half. In the second half, though, Cal turned the ball over just three times and “started to make each other better players,” Montgomery said.
“So guys were getting the ball, on balance, in rhythm. Then a ball went down … Then the next ball went down.”
But Stanford (21-11) kept the score close, thanks in part to Andrew Zimmerman.
Cal had no answer for the senior, whose aggressiveness on the glass and soft shooting touch led to 22 points and seven boards. Freshman guard Chasson Randle, who torched Arizona State the previous night for 27 points, chipped in 19 points but shot just 5-for-16 against Justin Cobbs’ man-to-man defense.
After Zimmerman tied the game at 62 with five minutes to go, the Bears responded with eight straight points. Zimmerman broke the streak with a layup, but Gutierrez scooped in a lefty bucket as he was falling and made the ensuing free throw to ice the game with 2:30 left.
“They made plays at the end,” said Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins. “I thought their seniors especially just really willed down the stretch of the ball game.”