KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For Cal's junior-dominated basketball team, today's NCAA Tournament game against Maryland is no audition for next season.
"We will return most of our team," forward Jamal Boykin said, "but we really have an opportunity to make a name for ourselves this year. This is about the moment right now."
Sophomore forward Harper Kamp noted that there are no guarantees the Bears will make it back to the NCAAs a year from now.
"Maybe we'll look back and say that it was a building block, it was a good step for us," Kamp said. "But right now, it's everything."
The No. 7-seeded Golden Bears (22-10) and Terrapins (20-13) tip off at 11:55 a.m. PDT at the Sprint Center. Today's winner will play No. 2 Memphis (31-3) or Cal State Northridge (17-13) in a second-round game Saturday.
While most of his players are newcomers to the NCAA Tournament, Cal coach Mike Montgomery made it 12 times during his years at Stanford. He stressed the importance of being ready for the big stage.
"You don't want them to come in with the idea that this is the icing on the cake. This is the cake," he said. "This is what you play for in college basketball."
Cal, playing in the NCAAs for the first time since 2006, faces one potential obstacle and one possible change today:
"It's really frustrating," Amoke said. "I still feel kind of foggy, but it's coming back. Hopefully, I'm ready to go."
"We're keeping our fingers crossed," Montgomery said. "But he's missed all week."
"I would like to guard him," Gutierrez said of the 6-foot-6 junior, who scored 35 points and had a triple-double in Maryland's win over North Carolina.
Montgomery hinted after Saturday's loss to USC in the Pac-10 tournament that Gutierrez's role could increase. If he starts today, it probably would be in place of 7-foot center Jordan Wilkes because the Terps open with no one taller than 6-7.
"It wouldn't be a bad move," said point guard Jerome Randle, unsure of what the lineup will be. "(Gutierrez) gives us a lot of energy. He's a hustler, and we know what we're going to get out of Jorge every night. With him starting, we're going to get that from tap to buzzer. It's a possibility."
The Bears also must overcome doubt from the highest office in the land. President Barack Obama picked Maryland to beat the Bears in the NCAA Tournament bracket he filled out for ESPN.
Boykin's theory is that Obama saw his brother-in-law, Oregon State coach Craig Robinson, lead his team past Cal twice, and that he is more familiar with Maryland.
"It would be nice to go far and say, 'Sorry, Mr. President, for ruining your bracket,'"" Boykin said.
Both the Bears and Terps prefer an up-tempo game, but Montgomery wonders if that's what will unfold.
"Obviously, both of us are comfortable in the open court because of the skill sets," he said. "But I don't think you're going to see that because typically in the NCAA things slow down a little bit, possessions become a bit more valued."
Contact Jeff Faraudo at firstname.lastname@example.org.