SIGN UP FOR A 30-DAY FREE TRIAL TO FOLLOW ALL THE LATEST RECRUITING NEWS IN BASEBALL, FOOTBALL AND BASKETBALL
BERKELEY -- After defeating Austin Peay on Nov. 15, junior California guard Brandon Smith said of senior teammate Jorge Gutierrez, "I always love when we prepare for a game and we're doing a scout and we see that the other team's best player is a shooting guard. I just smile inside, because I'm like, 'You know what? Jorge is going to be guarding that guy, and that guy probably won't score tonight.' I love that."
Friday night, Weber State shooting guard -- and Oakland, Calif., native -- Damian Lillard came into Haas Pavilion as the nation's leading scorer, having averaged 26.9 points per game.
He left Berkeley to a chorus of 'Overrated,' chants from the Bears faithful, as Gutierrez once again worked his magic, holding the dynamic junior to a 4-of-17 shooting night from the field in the Bears' 77-57 win -- their seventh-straight at home this season.
"It was tough. He's a great player, but I think it was team defense," Gutierrez said. "I think everybody contributed to slowing him down. We know we can't stop him, because he's a great player, but I think everyone contributed to making an impact in defending him.
"We love, as a team, playing against the best. Of course, he was a challenge, but it's just a game. I'm not more excited than any other game. It's just a game."
In the first half, Lillard shot just 1-for-10 from the field, and 0-for-5 from three-point range.
"It was the same as any other game," Gutierrez said of going against Lillard. "We know we have to respect him, but at the end of the day, it's just a game. We've got to play basketball. I always have fun, and I like playing against the best."
At one point in the second half, Lillard had more personal fouls than field goals, as he sank just two of his first 13 shots while recording three personal fouls.
"Jorge's just a really good defender," said Cal head coach Mike Montgomery said. "He takes pride in it. Lillard's a real good player, a really good athlete. He needs a little space to shoot the ball, and Jorge typically is not going to give you a lot of space to shoot the ball. He's also not likely to fall asleep and have a mental lapse, where you're just going to get a shot because he forgot about you. That's just not Jorge's M.O. More importantly, he was 4-for-17, and that's a key. The guy's going to score the ball; you know that. It's just a matter of what he has to do to get his points."
Gutierrez frustrated Lillard to the point of the two of them getting nailed with matching technical fouls with 15 minutes left in the game.
"He didn't look like [he was frustrated]," Gutierrez smiled. "He took 17 shots, so I don't think he looked frustrated at all."
Gutierrez was also the Bears' leading scorer, pouring in a game-high 24 points on 8-for-12 shooting, including a 3-for-5 day from beyond the arc.
"Jorge did a good job, as you would expect him to do," Montgomery said. "We knew that there were a lot of pick-and-rolls for [Lillard], and so the post guys had to be partially responsible for containing him. They did that, then they started to hurt us a little bit with the fact that we were kind of jumping up aggressively on the ball screens, and they started coming out and hurting us."
Gutierrez responded to the ball screens and pick-and-rolls for Lillard by dialing up his trademark physicality.
"I just tried to be more physical," Gutierrez said. "We knew that they were going to do that. We scouted them, and we knew that they were going to do that, so I just had to be more physical; that's all."
The senior guard out of Chihuaua, Mexico, was one of four Cal players to score in double figures, including sophomore Richard Solomon (11 points), senior Harper Kamp (11) and sophomore Allen Crabbe (16).
"He did a good job offensively," Montgomery said. "Obviously, he was making shots. The thing, I think, was probably more pleasing, was that he wasn't forcing. He was just getting open shots and making them, which if you're going to win basketball games, one, you have to get good shots, and two, you have to have people who can knock them down. That's what Crabbe typically does for you, is, if you get him good shots, he typically knocks them down."
The Bears (9-2) appeared sluggish early against the Wildcats' 3-2 zone, and just under 15 minutes into the first period, were shooting just 36.4 percent.
After trailing 32-18 at the half, Weber State (6-4) came out firing after the break, hitting five of six three-point attempts in the first five minutes of the second half, including two from Scott Bamforth and three from 6-foot-7 forward Byron Fulton.
"Their big guys did a good job," Montgomery said. "They hurt us with their big guys stepping off and shooting the ball a little bit, and Bamforth hurt us. We fell asleep on him some. They hit five threes in the second half, which kind of got them back in a little bit, but [it was] a good effort, defensively."
The Wildcats shot an abysmal 6-for-25 in the first half (17.1 percent) and despite hitting 14 of 29 shots in the second stanza, finished with a 31.3 mark for the game, as Lillard missed more shots -- 13 -- than any other player took, save for Fulton (5-for-13).
"Just making it tougher for him to get the shots that he's comfortable with," Kamp said of what made Gutierrez so effective on Lillard. "A good player like that, you know that he has tendencies and will want to get some shots. As a good offensive guy himself, Jorge knows that just making a guy uncomfortable is going to make it a lot tougher on him. He just knows that, if he goes all-out and goes hard, we're going to be right there, behind him, ready to help him out. That's the key."
Over the first 5:48 of the second half, Weber State hit six of seven shots, and reduced Cal's lead to eight points before Crabbe hit a jumper with 12:22 left to give the Bears a 12-point lead.
"They started making threes; they had five straight threes," Montgomery said. "Some of that was lack of attention to detail on our part, and if you're going to make five threes, you're going to close a lead. I thought right before the half, we had a 17-point lead or whatever, and they cut it to 14. I don't like to give points back right before halftime, but we never really -- I don't think -- totally got into a rhythm, offensively, going. We made some good plays, obviously. We just needed to move the ball and we got a lot more comfortable, as time went on, but once we got into a little rhythm offensively, we could get pretty much what we wanted to get, and then we got back to playing some defense and we stretched it out -- which we needed to do, or we've got ourselves in big trouble."
The Wildcats then proceeded to miss their next five shots as Cal built the lead to 18 on two free throws from Gutierrez. After Lillard hit a three with 7:06 left, Gutierrez responded in kind, nailing a trey of his own from the left side as the Bears went on a 20-5 run.
"I was just feeling comfortable," said Gutierrez, who went 3-for-5 from beyond the arc. "Shots were falling down and we just have to play harder on defense. That's all."
The 20-5 run was capped off by a clutch and-one play by Solomon, who was playing in just his second game and first start since returning from a suspension. Solomon showed good post awareness with a bucket in the midst of low-post traffic, and drew the foul from Fulton, hitting his free throw to make it 64-41.
The 6-foot-10 sophomore started the game on a bit of a cold streak, hitting just one of his first four shots. But, Solomon found other ways to contribute, pulling down five boards and tallying a block and a steal in the first half.
"I think he might have been a little bit frustrated that the first couple didn't fall for him, but I think that's a product of just our team environment," Kamp said. "Everyone kept a positive mindset and just trying to give him confidence and know that those are shots that are going to fall for him, if he just keeps taking them and keeps getting comfortable, just working on that touch, it's going to keep falling."
Solomon scored a season-high 11 points -- just missing out on his career best of 14 against Washington on Jan. 16, 2011 -- on 4-of-9 shooting and 3-of-3 from the charity stripe, pulling down seven rebounds and hammering home two dunks.
"The way they were playing, they're going to give up something," Montgomery said. "They were playing a 3-2 zone and we felt like we could get it in low when we needed to, it's just that you had to be able to make a play. We probably could have gone down straight one-on-one at the post, pretty much whenever we wanted. It's just not something we've done. Harper made some plays, Richard made some plays. That helped us."
With five minutes left, Gutierrez drove the lane against Fulton, giving the championship banners in the rafters a run for their money by hanging up in the air and dropping the rock into the basket on a sky-high finger-roll.
Kamp came into the game having shot an uncharacteristic 10-for-24 (41.7 percent) from the field over the previous four games, but finished shooting 5-of-8 (62.5 percent) from the field.
"I think it might be a product of me just getting back in my rhythm," Kamp said. "I'm a little disappointed that I wasn't able to get as much work in, in the summer, as I wanted to, but I think my coaches and teammates have really helped me out to just try and get back in my rhythm and get back in the flow of Division I basketball. It's high-speed and it's hard to get back into the rhythm."
Kamp didn't discount the role superstition may have played in his resurgence, as the now-clean-shaven senior hit four of his first five shots after turning to the razor.
"Yeah, just went with something new," Kamp laughed. "I tried to change it up a little bit, so maybe it's just a psychological thing, I guess."
Kamp got into a good rhythm in the post, scoring nine of Cal's 34 points in the paint.
"We're trying to get those baskets that are really efficient," Kamp said. "I think me and Richard are really trying to get the shots that are best for us, and best for our team, and tonight, I had a couple fall and he did, as well, and I think that just makes it a little bit easier for guys like Jorge and Allen to do their thing and vice-versa. If we have it going inside and out, then it's going to make everything flow a little better."
Kamp finished off a 12-2 run at the start of the game with a put-back on a missed jumper by Solomon with 14:25 left in the first half. During that run, Kamp scored four points and pulled down three boards.
"I've just tried to keep a positive mindset and just keep pushing through and playing the way I know how to play," said Kamp. "The only thing I know how to do is just keep working at it, and hope that it's all going to turn out for the best and keep relying on my teammates. It worked out tonight. I think we can get a lot better at it, too. I can get a lot better."
-- Redshirt sophomore point guard Justin Cobbs started his fourth straight game, and scored six points on 1-of-4 shooting from the field and 4-of-5 from the free-throw line. Cobbs and Smith combined for 11 assists -- five for Smith, six for Cobbs -- with just one turnover between them, as the Bears boasted a 2.29:1 (16 assists, 7 turnovers) assists-to-turnovers ratio on the night.
"When Brandon just focuses on doing simple things, he's good. He makes good passes, and so forth. Sometimes he tries to do a little too much and he gets himself in trouble," Montgomery said. "Justin, I don't think, right now, is overly a huge fan of zones. I think he's still trying to figure out how to play against zones and how he can be effective. He's really good on the break, and that, of course, is something we did not a great job of, because we gave up 11 offensive rebounds in the first half. There was times when we'd have boarded the ball, we could have gotten out and ran, and that's a big part of what we want to do. But, Weber State did a good job. They controlled tempo a little bit and their big guys were physical on the glass. They went hard. That's why two guys fouled out for them, going to the glass, but we had a decent assists-to-turnover ratio, again, and that's what the point guard's job is."
On the season, Cal has dished out 182 assists to 138 turnovers, a 1.32:1 ratio.
-- By limiting Weber State to 18 points in the first half, Cal marked the fifth time this season and the third game in a row in which it has held an opponent to under 20 points at the break. The Wildcats did not score until a put-back 4:11 into the game, by which time the Bears had built an 8-0 lead.
-- With 16 points on 6-of-13 shooting, Crabbe scored in double figures for the sixth straight game. Over that span, Crabbe is averaging 18.2 points per game.
-- Gutierrez's 24 points mark his second-highest scoring output of the season, two behind his 26-point performance against McNeese State on Nov. 28.
-- True freshman big man David Kravish continued a strong start to his college career, grabbing a game- and career-high 11 rebounds, surpassing his 10 boards against San Jose State on Dec. 7.
-- Other than Missouri, every Cal opponent this season has been held to under 45 percent shooting from the floor. The Wildcats were the seventh squad to shoot less than 40 percent.
-- The Bears improved to 28-3 in non-conference home games under Montgomery, and are now 17-1 against Big Sky schools all-time.