Cal holds off Stanford 77-71 in Pac-12 quartersCalifornia's Harper Kamp, top left, and Stanford 's Andrew Zimmermann fight for a rebound during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Pac-12 conference championship in Los Angeles, Thursday, March 8, 2012. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
LOS ANGELES (AP) Jorge Gutierrez saw a simple theme in California's three straight awful halves of basketball against Stanford over the past five days. The Golden Bears were so concerned about their postseason destination that they had forgotten to enjoy the journey.
So Cal's senior leader put on a second-half performance that was a joy to watch, and he drove the Bears forward in the Pac-12 tournament in the process.
Gutierrez scored 19 of his 22 points after halftime, Harper Kamp added 17 points, and Cal avenged last weekend's loss to Stanford with a 77-71 victory in the quarterfinals on Thursday night.
Justin Cobbs scored 15 points while playing strong defense on Stanford freshman sensation Chasson Randle for the second-seeded Bears (24-8), who won their rubber match with their Bay Area nemesis. Stanford beat Cal 75-70 at Maples Pavilion last Sunday, preventing the Bears from winning a share of the Pac-12 regular-season title.
When the Bears committed 14 turnovers in the first half and fell behind 30-23 at Staples Center, Gutierrez - the Pac-12's player of the year and its top defensive player - knew what needed to change.
''For us, this is a new season, and I think we kind of forgot this is supposed to be fun,'' Gutierrez said.
The second half was a blast for the high-energy guard, who made 6 of 8 shots after halftime. He finished with seven assists and six rebounds for the Bears, who made a 15-3 run to open the second half and never trailed again.
''That's the kind of play we expect from Jorge, and it's not surprising,'' Kamp said. ''He's been doing that all year - the last few years, really.''
After stumbling into the postseason with its first consecutive losses of the year to Colorado and Stanford, Cal must win the tournament to breathe easily about its NCAA fate. After top-seeded Washington's stunning loss to ninth-seeded Oregon State six hours earlier, the Bears became the highest seed remaining in Los Angeles.
''We really needed this win, there's no question,'' said Cal coach Mike Montgomery, who improved to 6-3 with Cal against Stanford, where he spent 18 seasons. ''It gives us 24. It gets us to the semis. Losing three (straight) at the end of the year would not be a good resume-builder for the next tournament.''
Andrew Zimmermann had a career-high 22 points and seven rebounds for the seventh-seeded Cardinal (21-11), who couldn't respond to Cal's second-half rally in the rivals' rubber match after each school won on its home floor during the regular season.
''We were right there,'' Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said. ''I thought they made some plays at the end. Their seniors especially just really willed them down the stretch.''
Randle scored 19 points for the Cardinal, but went 5 for 16 - just 2 of 9 on 3-pointers. The freshman dropped 27 of his 30 points on Arizona State in the first half of the Cardinal's opening-round victory.
Cal didn't appear to try anything fancy against Randle, who scored 17 points against the Bears at Maples Pavilion last weekend. Cobbs' man-to-man coverage largely limited Randle's looks and harassed him into ineffectiveness.
''They did a great job,'' Randle said. ''(Cobbs) did a good job chasing me off screens, keeping me in front of him.''
Gutierrez said the Cal coaching staff asked him if he wanted to guard Randle, but the senior thought Cobbs would do the best job.
Stanford had a seven-point lead at halftime despite just five points from Randle. Cal, which committed just three turnovers after halftime, went up 38-33 on Allen Crabbe's 3-pointer 4 minutes into the second half.
Cal maintained a narrow lead until Zimmermann's putback layup tied it at 60 with 6:06 to play. The Bears answered moments later with an 8-0 run capped by Cobbs' four straight free throws.
Cal led 73-64 on Gutierrez's three-point play with 2:31 left, but Randle finally awoke with five quick points. David Kravish drew a key foul and hit two free throws with 40.7 seconds left, and the Bears hung on.
Cal had won five of its previous six meetings with Stanford before the Cardinal's surprising victory last weekend. Gutierrez even said he didn't believe the matchup was a true rivalry, given the Bears' domination since Montgomery moved across the bay to Berkeley.
The teams' mutual dislike surfaced repeatedly in the final minutes, with several players posturing and treading on the edge of technical fouls.