TUCSON, Ariz. — Much of what sophomore guard Jorge Gutierrez contributes to the Cal basketball game doesn't show up in the box score. So maybe it was fitting that he gave an understated assessment of the clutch 3-pointer he made the other night at Arizona State.
"It's just a shot — nothing else," he said.
With five weeks remaining in the regular season, Gutierrez's analysis is appropriately levelheaded.
Still, the 3-pointer from the right corner with 2 minutes, 55 seconds left was perhaps the Bears' biggest shot of the season. It gave them breathing room after the Sun Devils had trimmed a 16-point lead to one point, sending them on to a 78-70 victory Thursday and a potentially huge Pac-10 Conference game today at Arizona.
With a victory today at McKale Center against the second-place Wildcats (11-9, 5-3), the Bears (14-6, 6-2) would achieve the following:
"It was definitely a big shot," teammate Jamal Boykin said.
It was the kind of play the Bears expect from Gutierrez, who was playing just his second game after missing the previous five with a knee sprain.
"I was happy to see him make that. He's getting back into the flow of things,'' Boykin said. "I think it was good for his confidence.''
Gutierrez also took a charge with 51 seconds left, but admitted he arrived a split-second too late to prevent a dunk by Rihards Kuksiks minutes earlier.
"I know what to do,'' he said. "When I got tired, it's hard to do it."
Gutierrez is one of what coach Mike Montgomery calls his "energy guys,'' along with sophomore forward Omondi Amoke, who was sick Thursday and could not provide much energy in just 10 minutes on the floor.
Montgomery has used Gutierrez as his sixth man, coming off the bench to change the game's tone with his defense and intensity.
For now, with his sore knee still healing and his stamina reduced by three weeks of inactivity, Gutierrez must provide that in spurts.
"He got very fatigued early, and sometimes when you get fatigued you make mistakes, which he did, with shot selection and defensively,'' Montgomery said. "But late, he gutted up and did a really nice job — hit a huge three and took the charge. We've got to get him back in shape.''
Arizona, young but improving steadily under first-year coach Sean Miller, has won three straight to climb out of a five-way tie for second place to sole possession of the spot.
"Every game for us could be the one that puts us over the top or it could be the one that buries us,'' Montgomery said. "The league is that way, and we have to realize that.''
Gutierrez said the Bears understand what's at stake.
"Oh man, if we win, we're two games ahead of everybody. It's big for us,'' he said. "We've got to win it.''