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Can Gutierrez still win Pac-12 Player of the Year?

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Jorge Gutierrez likely lost his frontrunner status for Pac-12 Player of the Year after going scoreless Sunday in a Cal loss at Colorado.


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FEBRUARY 28, 2012

Seven missed field goals. Zero free throw attempts. Zero points.

Jorge Gutierrez’s penultimate regular-season performance was arguably his worst in over two years, an outing magnified by the importance of Cal’s loss to Colorado.

Gutierrez hadn’t gone scoreless since Jan. 2, 2010, a 92-66 win over Stanford in which he sprained his right knee and missed the next five games. He played only five minutes and took no shots. (Fun fact: Max Zhang scored 13 points against the Cardinal that day.)

At midseason, the Cal senior who once lived on wilted heads of lettuce was a consensus midseason pick for the conference’s top individual honor. Has that changed with his late-season swoon?


We’ll start with the weakest part of Gutierrez’s resume. The defensive-oriented guard has never shined on paper and, now at the conclusion of his collegiate career, is still a player best appreciated through the eye test.

His scoring output (13.0 ppg) falls just outside the top 10, while the other aforementioned candidates all rank in the top six. His offensive rating (points produced per possession) ranks an unimpressive 38th. These are not necessarily damning facts; Gutierrez has never been a great shooter, but he has turned himself from an offensive liability to one of Cal’s two main threats to drive down the lane.

Coach Mike Montgomery said after the Bears’ loss in Boulder that Gutierrez has “been having trouble shooting the ball, and it gets in his head.” Not something you usually hear about the best player in the conference.

Scoring is not the only way to impact to impact a team. Still, it is the way that translates most clearly to paper, and Gutierrez is shooting 32.4 percent over his past four games.

His numbers don’t help much on the other end of the court either. Gutierrez is one of the country’s premier perimeter defenders, something that does not always translate to steals (1.2) or blocks (four total this season). Oregon State’s Jared Cunningham leads the Pac-12 with 2.57 steals per game, but his team gives him the benefit of  playing to the conference’s highest tempo.

What’s left is a glue guy who is solid across the board (5.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists), but rarely eye-popping.


This could work as a strong argument for Gutierrez, but it’s also one that is difficult is assess statistically. Cal is the conference’s top ranked defense, an identity it owes largely to the presence of Gutierrez and fellow senior Harper Kamp. It’s Gutierrez who usually bears the burden of guarding the opposing team’s best guard.

Frankly, Gutierrez does a lot more than just score, something that can’t be said for guys like Washington’s Terrence Ross and Oregon’s Devoe Joseph. In the Colorado loss, for example, he led the Bears with nine rebounds.

Brock Motum and Jared Cunningham, the Pac-12’s leading scorer, are similarly outstanding on their respective teams, but Washington State and Oregon State are both well below .500 in conference play. The Bears are likely headed for a 10- or 11-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Without Gutierrez, Cal wouldn’t even be a lock for the NIT.


Over the previous 10 seasons, only two Pac-10 Players of the Year have come from teams outside the conference’s top three: sixth-place Arizona State’s Ike Diogu (2004-05) and fifth-place Oregon’s Luke Ridnour (2002-03). The regular season champion has produced five of the past 10 MVPs.

This voting trend, above all, might buoy Gutierrez’s candidacy the most.

Motum is averaging 23.4 points and 6.9 rebounds over eight games, but Washington State has only won three of them. Cunningham’s Beavers have fallen apart after a surprisingly successful nonconference slate that included a win over Texas. Washington will clinch the inaugural Pac-12 title if it sweeps its Los Angeles road trip, but Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross would divide the Husky vote.

PREDICTION: Jorge takes a split vote, but not by much. Part of this is simply the voters’ dearth of options: The top teams are too balanced, and the good players on bad teams aren’t superlative talents. The glue guy wins it all.

Contact Jack Wang at 


FEBRUARY 28, 2012

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