BERKELEY, Calif. – The emotion of Senior Night is always a concern, how players will respond to playing in their final home game.
Haas Pavilion will host forward Harper Kamp and guard Jorge Gutierrez for the final time Saturday night (7 p.m., Comcast Sportsnet California), but the bigger issue for California might be the one-two punch of Oregon State’s high-powered offense and potential for a letdown after a wild win over Oregon.
The Golden Bears (21-6, 11-3 Pac-12) withstood the Ducks’ combination of athleticism and shooting of guard Devoe Joseph in an 86-83 escape to remain tied for the conference lead, but the Beavers are even more explosive.
Oregon State (15-11, 5-9) is averaging 80.5 points per game, paced by guard Jared Cunningham. The junior is scoring almost 19 points per game, best in the conference.
Cunningham lit up Cal for 24 points in the first meeting, a 92-85 loss in Corvallis that saw Oregon State employ a 1-3-1 defense for the first time under head coach Craig Robinson.
It flustered Cal initially, but didn’t exactly hinder the offense. They shot 57.4 percent from the field, as Gutierrez led the way with 26 points, one of four players in double figures.
“Scoring wasn’t too much of an issue. We just couldn’t get them stopped,” Cal head coach Mike Montgomery said.
Considering Oregon State shot 63.3 percent and hit 16 of 21 shots in the second half, that would be an understatement. The 92 points allowed tied a season worst for Cal, which ranks 25th nationally in scoring defense.
The challenge will fall on Kamp and Gutierrez to lead a defensive turnaround, one they have readily accepted as team leaders.
“Our attitude and our approach to the game and just bringing the energy and passion,” Kamp said. “I think guys have paid attention to that.”
Montgomery said the duo “sets the tone” for the team.
“They are worth their weight in gold,” he said. “Part of the reason we are able to be where we are is because of those two.
“They set the tone defensively, they set the tone physically.”
For Gutierrez, he has transformed from a lightly recruited afterthought to fan favorite. His only offer came from Cal even after a solid high school career at Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep.
Relaying the circumstances, it was easy to visualize Montgomery’s incredibly direct pitch.
“He just put the papers on the table,” Gutierrez recalled.
“Here’s your scholarship. If you want it, take it. If you don’t, just go home.”
In the four years since, Gutierrez has become a jack-of-all-trades for Cal. He is second on the team in points and assists, third in rebounds and his 32 steals are tops. Regarded as the top defender in the conference, he is the favorite to be named Pac-12 player of the year.
“I’m just glad I have him,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery believes Gutierrez can carve out a spot in the NBA, pointing to his defense and high character.
“He can help somebody, there is no question in my mind,” Montgomery said. “He’s not going to get you 30, but he can defend, he can board, he can pass, he can play multiple positions.”
His best asset is his competitive fire, which became even more evident after being kicked by an Arizona assistant coach earlier this month. Gutierrez had to be restrained by Kamp and other teammates, but his intensity whipped the home crowd into a frenzy.
“I’m just a very competitive guy,” Gutierrez said. “I’ve said it before, I don’t like to lose.
“We take the game personal. We do whatever it takes to win.”
It has carried over to Cal's pursuit of a title.