TIPOFF: 6 p.m. Thursday at Staples Center, Los Angeles. TV: CSNBA. Radio: 910-AM.
Mike Montgomery won’t come right out and say the Bears need a win over Stanford to avoid bad news on Selection Sunday.
But he might sleep better if his team can end its two-game skid with a victory in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals.
“I think another win would help. I don’t know if there’s a sense that it revolves on that,” he said this week. “But I think it would help to get another win, for sure, get 24, get into the semifinals. I would feel a lot better about it.
“We’re just going to go do the best we can. That’s all we can do.”
The Bears will return to the court for the first time since losing 75-70 to the Cardinal at Maples Pavilion on Sunday. That game came on the heels of a 70-57 loss at Colorado the previous Sunday.
Combined, the two defeats left Cal in a tie for second place in the final conference standings.
Asked about his team’s mental state following its first two-game losing streak of the season, Montgomery said, “I don’t know that they’re pleased with the way that they played. We’re just having a hard time playing the way we should in a situation with that much riding on it.
“You look at the tape and there’s just things that you go, `What?’ Just not characteristic of us.”
Three issues are causing the Bears trouble right now:
— PHYSICAL PLAY: Stanford played aggressively from the start against Cal, aware that its numbers would allow them to survive foul trouble. If one guy picked up a couple fouls, he’d be replaced by another.
“They backed us off a little bit,” Montgomery said. “They were very physical early. You knew you weren’t going to get much for free.
“(Andrew) Zimmerman said it best, when he said, `We have nothing to lose.’ They kind of played like that.”
“You have to be very fundamentally sound,” Montgomery said. “You’re hoping that the officials will balance it out a little bit so you can run cuts and do what you’re supposed to be able to do. They’re not going to call very much, but you’re hoping they at least give you a chance.
“You’re just going to have to be sharper in your cuts, your screens are going to have to be better and you’re going to have to finish plays under duress, knowing you’re probably going to get hit. And you’re going to have to be mentally tough.”
— GUTIERREZ’S STRUGGLES: Pac-12 Player of the Year Jorge Gutierrez has made just 7 of 26 shots over the past three games, including a scoreless performance at Colorado. He clearly was frustrated at Stanford, where he had three first-half fouls and more turnovers (4) than baskets (3).
Gutierrez doesn’t have to score big for Cal to excel, but he must return to his aggressive, decisive style that impacts the game at both ends of the floor. He is Cal’s facilitator and when he’s off his game, the Bears are out of step, too.
“He got taken out of the game Sunday, which is too bad,” Montgomery said. “He was ready to go. He would have influenced the game defensively for sure, and probably would have been able to do more offensively. But he was taken out.
“If you have (Gutierrez) and (Allen) Crabbe both shooting the ball and Justin (Cobbs) getting to the basket it makes you a better team.”
Montgomery said Gutierrez’s recent shooting slump is “in his head a little bit.”
Bottom line: “For him, if he plays hard good things are going to happen. If you take him out early like he was, it’s pretty hard to get into a rhythm.”
— FATIGUE: Montgomery talked Sunday at Stanford with Cardinal women’s coach Tara VanDerveer.
“It was interesting. Tara came up to me before the game and said, `I’m being criticized because I’m only playing seven players, but I only have seven players who know how to win,’ ” Montgomery said. “And she’s got a team that’s (No.) 2 in the country. Point is she has other players who are clearly good players, but they’re not capable of playing in that context.”
The Bears have fought depth issues all season, and suddenly they appear to have just five players they can count on. Backup point guard Brandon Smith has been inconsistent and the team’s first post player off the bench is Robert Thurman, a walk-on.
Montgomery got so little from his reserves at Stanford he simply couldn’t play them. That put more stress on the starters.
“If it’s fatigue — and it looked like we were tired on Sunday — I’m just going to have to find ways to get guys some rest,” Montgomery said. “Then they’re going to know they’ll get rest so they can play harder when they’re in there.”
MISCELLANY: Cal and Stanford are meeting for just the second time in the conference tournament. In the 1990 quarterfinals, the sixth-seeded Cardinal beat the No. 3 Bears 77-61 at Tempe, Ariz. . . . Stanford is shooting 27 for 55 from the 3-point arc in its past three victories . . . As of Wednesday night, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi still had just two Pac-12 teams — Cal and Washington — projected to make the NCAA tournament field. He listed Oregon as one of the “first four out.”
Cal (23-8, 13-5 Pac-12)
|SF Allen Crabbe||6-6||So.||15.4||5.6|
|PF Harper Kamp||6-8||Sr.||11.3||5.1|
|PF David Kravish||6-9||Fr.||7.0||5.7|
|SG Jorge Gutierrez||6-3||Sr.||12.9||5.3|
|PG Justin Cobbs||6-2||So.||12.8||5.1*|
|G Brandon Smith||5-11||Jr.||3.1||2.4*|
|C Robert Thurman||6-10||Jr.||3.8||1.8|
|F Bak Bak||6-8||Jr.||1.9||1.4|
Stanford (21-10, 10-8 Pac-12)
|PF Josh Owens||6-8||Sr.||11.8||5.7|
|PF Andrew Zimmerman||6-8||Sr.||3.5||2.2|
|SG Anthony Brown||6-6||So.||7.6||3.6|
|SG Jarrett Mann||6-4||Sr.||3.5||3.0|
|PG Chasson Randle||6-1||Fr.||13.6||3.2|
|G Aaron Bright||5-11||So.||11.0||3.6*|
|F Dwight Powell||6-9||So.||5.2||4.5|
|F Josh Huestis||6-7||So.||5.3||5.0|