The lingering image from Cal’s game against No. 3 Kansas on Wednesday at Haas Pavilion was neither the final score – 78-63 in favor of Kansas – nor the offensive excellent of Jayhawks guard Josh Selby, but the beet-red face of enraged Golden Bears guard Jorge Gutierrez as he was dragged from a scuffle with Kansas Thomas Robinson.
It represented the overall chippiness of game that almost got out of hand a few times, creating a fascination well beyond the score. But it also spoke more eloquently than words about Gutierrez and what he represents for the team.
On one hand, the moment had comedic undertones, as Harper Kamp grabbed Gutierrez by the ankles and hauled him from the skirmish by sliding the prone Gutierrez backward along the floor a good 10 feet. But it was scary as well, as the incensed Gutierrez scrambled to his feet with a “Let me at ‘em” look of a half-crazed pro wrestler. By that time, Cal coach Mike Montgomery had run onto the court to gather Gutierrez in his arms, so he and Kamp could restrain the irate Gutierrez.
They knew the fact that Gutierrez is soft-spoken 6-3, 195-pound guard with a ponytail, while Robinson is a 6-9, 237-pound physical presence would not deter Gutierrez when he’s angry.
And, for the most part, Montgomery adores Gutierrez for it.
“You gotta love Jorge,” Montgomery said afterward. “He’s the greatest, just the best, but he’s a stubborn son of gun. If you attack him, he’s going to come back at you. It’s in his nature. It’s what makes him so good.”
Montgomery appreciates that kind of player. Gutierrez provides the Bears with a toughness and a “You can’t intimidate us” persona teams need.
Montgomery had been bemoaning the fact that Cal had committed too many “touch fouls” on plays that warranted a “good aggressive physical foul” that would have prevented Kansas baskets instead of creating three-point play opportunities.
Montgomery’s national-powerhouse Stanford teams were known for their physical toughness, and Gutierrez fits nicely into that mold. You may recall that Gutierrez was Montgomery’s first recruit as Cal’s coach, even though nobody had heard of this kid from Chihuahua, Mexico.
“He takes things personally, he competes out there,” Montgomery said. “It’s not a bad thing, but there are times and circumstances.”
In this circumstance, it gave Gutierrez his fourth foul less than four minutes into the second half, leaving Cal without its floor leader for quite awhile. But it was also less than two minutes after Kansas’ Marcus Morris had been ejected for a flagrant elbow to Kamp’s face, no doubt reminding Gutierrez of the run-in he had had with Robinson in the first half, when Robinson was charged with a flagrant foul that sent Gutierrez sprawling.
Minutes after that early foul was called, Gutierrez was motioning toward Robinson to come to him, so you knew that episode would not be forgotten.
It was clear this would not be the final incident between the two teams, and it wasn’t.
Kansas coach Bill Self said afterward the physical nature of the game was “ridiculous.” But in the next breath he added, “On the positive side, that was the most fun game we have played all year; our guys liked that.”
Indeed, it was kind of fun – for the fans too.
It’s no coincidence that Cal made a run in the midst of Gutierrez’s ground battle with Robinson.
Kansas seemingly had taken over the game by scoring the first nine points of the second half to take a 17-point lead. But the foul and ejection by Morris was part of a five-point Cal possession that got the margin down to nine, at which point Gutierrez and Robinson had their skirmish on the floor, resulting in technical fouls.
The crowd of 11,250, many of whom were Kansas fans, were then intimately involved in the proceedings, and the noise spurred the Bears to cut the deficit to three points with 12:48 left.
A missed Nigel Carter free throw – and foul shooting was a problem all night for Cal, which shot 19-for-33 from the line – prevented the Bears from making it a two-point game, and when the emotion began to wane, so did Cal’s chances.
The Jayhawks’ basketball superiority took hold again, and Cal could not stay with them, especially with Gutierrez on the bench with foul problems. By the time Gutierrez re-entered the game with 9:24 left, Cal trailed by 12 and the hay was in the barn – or whatever metaphor you want to use for the fact that momentum perpetuated by Gutierrez’s ferocity had run its course and the game was over.
Montgomery knows what he has in Gutierrez, for better or worse.
“You’re not going to change him, and that’s what you love about him,” Montgomery said. “Everybody would want to have him. If you come at him, he’s going to come back at you.”
And it is Gutierrez’s personality that pervades the team.
“Our guys will compete,” Montgomery said. “I think you’ve got that figured out. They’re not afraid.”
It’s just a matter of staying on the court in the process.
To receive Cal sports news regularly, click the “subscribe” button above the headline. It’s free.
For Stanford basketball news, click here.
Go to JakesTakeOnSports.com for Bay Area college football and basketball.