Fans can only hope that today’s Pac-10 opener at Haas Pavilion is close to as entertaining as last year’s meeting between the Bears and Cardinal in Berkeley.
Cal’s 82-75 come-from-the-grave victory last Feb. 14 — after trailing by 22 points late in the first half — ranks as one of the season’s two memorable games.
(The other, of course, was Cal’s 88-85 triple-overtime win at Washington, an instant classic).
To prep for today’s Pac-10 opener, coach Mike Montgomery showed his players video of the comeback last year against Stanford.
“Just watching it, it really opened our eyes to the fact that we can really defend like that every night if we just focus in,” senior Jerome Randle said.
Jorge Gutierrez, then a freshman, came off the bench to contribute 10 points, eight rebounds and five steals — all of them after Cal fell behind 47-25.
“Jorge was the game-changer,” senior Jerome Randle said.
“Jorge was unquestionably big — he guarded about three people,” Montgomery said. “He was guarding his guy, over giving backside help on another guy, getting a deflection over here. The ball seemed to be a magnet to him, which got the crowd going, which got us going.”
“He’s such a great teammate to have,” senior guard Patrick Christopher said of Gutierrez. “Jorge sacrifices so much. You know he’s going to bring that intensity, that defensive presence and do a lot of things that most players won’t do. He’s not too much worried about anything but winning.”
Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said Cal successfully weathered the storm when the Cardinal shot so well coming out of the locker room. The Cardinal converted 75 percent of its shots while building the 47-25 lead.
“We got off to an early lead and we made a lot of shots. Sometimes that can be a little deceiving, the clip we were shooting at,” he said. “(Cal) stayed with it, stayed comeptitive and Gutierrez came in and gave them a big lift off the bench.”
Montgomery said the idea of reliving the game on video was to remind his players what is possible when everyone is on the same page.
“(It was) just to show them how much fun that can be, the crowd and everything,” Monty said. “The ball was moving and everything was really good. I said, `We can do it.’ It’s just a mindset.”
STANFORD SCOUT: Montgomery said he’s been impressed with how effectively Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins utilizes senior forward Landry Fields, who is No. 2 in the Pac-10 in scoring, rebounding and steals.
“Johnny’s done a great job creating mismatches with Landry. If you go big, he goes out. If you go little, he goes in,” Montgomery said. “They start with him at the 3, and that would be a natural matchup for Theo (Robertson). He’s really playing well. He’s not only scoring the ball, but he’s making other players better, and that’s the mark of a great player.”
Option B for the Cardinal is sophomore Jeremy Green, who averages 16.2 points and shoots 42 percent from 3-point range. Patrick Christopher will draw the opening assignment on Green.
“Fields and Green are the two main guys and they do a lot of things to get those guys shots,” Montgomery explained. “Everybody else has roles and has accepted thoses roles. I think (Dawkins has) done a real good job of keeping the court spread, giving those guys opportunities to do what they do.”
Stanford has been hurt by the absence of 6-8 junior forward Josh Owens (sidelined indefinitely by an undisclosed medical condition) and 6-10 would-be senior Will Paul (who dropped out of school). But Montgomery said the guys replacing them up front, including former Campolindo HS standout Jack Trotter, are not killing the Cardinal.
“Their inside guys, they’re doing a good job, they’re solid,” Montgomery said. “They don’t hurt ‘em.”
BEARS WON’T RELAX: Christopher said it means absolutely nothing that Cal was picked before the season to win the Pac-10, and Stanford was tagged to finish last.
“I’m not falling into that trap right there. The conference is always competitive, top to bottom,” he said. “You look at last year — we lost to Oregon State twice. You win those games we might be Pac-10 champions.
“You can never take a game off and say, `They were preseason ranked whatever in the Pac-10.’ People could look at us and say we were preseason ranked No. 12 in the country, and where are we now?
“All of that preseason stuff is fun for the moment, but what you do with it is what really matters.”
DAWKINS TALK: Stanford’s coach said there is no particular pressure on Fields to carry the Cardinal, any more than any elite player must perform for his team.
“I don’t think he has that pressure on him. That’s nothing we ask for him to do,” Dawkins said, “Our offense isn’t designed for him to do that per se. He’s taken advantage of the opportunities. We’re happy for that.
“He’s having one of those seasons. We want to see it continue for the kid. He’s worked very hard, sacrificed. It’s good to see hard work rewarded.”
MISCELLANY: Stanford has won four of the past five meetings in a rivalry that dates back to the 1911-12 season. Cal leads 140-113 overall, but has won just three of the past 13 . . . With 1,415 career points, Randle ranks ninth on Cal’s all-time list. Next up: No. 8 Russ Critchfield (1966-68) with 1,437 points . . . Christopher is 14th on the same list with 1,358 points. He needs 25 more to move past Roy Fisher (1988-91), who is 13th with 1,382 . . . And Theo Robertson needs just 17 more points to become the third current Cal player to reach 1,000 for his career . . . Randle has taken over the Pac-10 free-throw percentage lead at .932 (55-for-59).
TIPOFF: 4 p.m.
WHERE: Haas Pavilion, Berkeley.
Starters Ht Yr Pts Rebs
SF Theo Robertson 6-6 Sr. 13.3 3.2
PF Jamal Boykin 6-8 Sr. 11.9 7.2
C Markhuri Sanders-Frison 6-8 Jr. 3.1 4.4
SG Patrick Christopher 6-5 Sr. 17.0 5.3
PG Jerome Randle 5-10 Sr. 19.3 4.8*
SG Jorge Gutierrez 6-2 So. 6.2 3.3
F Omondi Amoke 6-7 So. 5.3 6.2
C Max Zhang 7-2 So. 3.5 3.2
Starters Ht Yr Pts Rebs
SF Landry Fields 6-7 Sr. 23.4 9.0
PF Jack Trotter 6-9 So. 5.9 4.1
C Andrew Zimmerman 6-8 So. 6.8 4.0
SG Jeremy Green 6-4 So. 16.2 4.2
PG Jarrett Mann 6-5 So. 8.1 5.8*
G Drew Shiller 6-0 Sr. 8.8 2.5*
G Emanuel Igbinosa 6-2 Sr. 2.2 1.3
* – Assists