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Cal's Jorge Gutierrez, left, and Washington State's Klay Thompson battle for a loose ball during overtime of a men's basketball game at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011. Cal won 88-81. (Ray Chavez/Staff)

Jorge Gutierrez talks on the phone twice a week to his parents in Chihuahua, Mexico.

"We talk about my day, how they are, how I'm doing," said Gutierrez, a junior guard on Cal's basketball team.

What they rarely talk about is the violence from the deadly drug war that has gone on in Gutierrez's homeland the last four years.

"My mom and dad tell me a little bit about it," Gutierrez said. "I don't think they tell me a whole lot because they don't want me to worry about it."

But Gutierrez, 22, does worry. And he is sad for his hometown.

"We used to be very friendly, but things changed," Gutierrez said of the city in which he grew up. "It's pretty bad right now. When I was there, it was all good. You could walk around the streets at night.

"It changed (because of) the drug war. Right now it's one of the most dangerous cities or states in the world. Nobody's safe down there."

A total of 34,612 people have died in drug-related killings in Mexico over the past four years since President Felipe Calderon declared an offensive against drug cartels, according to figures released last week by the Mexican government.

In 2010, the killings jumped 60 percent from the previous year to 15,273 deaths. More than half the killings took place in three northern states, including Chihuahua, whose most violent city is the border town Cuidad Juarez.

Gutierrez's family -- parents Fernando and Bertha, two older brothers, grandparents and cousins -- live in the state capital city of Chihauhau, about 200 miles south of Juarez.

Thirteen family members made the 12-hour drive to Tucson, Ariz., to watch Gutierrez and the Golden Bears play the Arizona Wildcats on Jan. 6.

It was the first time Gutierrez had seen his family since May. He got to spend just 30 minutes visiting with them after the game.

"It was really nice," Gutierrez said. "I needed that."

Family members displayed a huge Mexican flag and an oversized sombrero from their seats behind the Cal bench. Gutierrez played well in the 73-71 loss to Arizona, totaling 14 points, six rebounds, four steals and three assists. His mother phoned a few days later to express how much they enjoyed seeing him.

"They were really proud, really excited that they came," Gutierrez said.

The subject never strayed to the ongoing problems in Chihuahua, where a month ago today Maricela Escobedo, an activist seeking justice for the murder of her daughter in 2008, was fatally shot outside the state capitol building while collecting signatures.

A closed-circuit camera showed Escobedo, known as "Rubi's Mom," being chased by an assailant to the entrance of the governor's palace, where she was shot in the head with a 9mm pistol. The video showed the killer running back across the street and getting in a white Volkswagen Jetta, which drove away.

Escobedo is one of nearly 31,000 victims of execution-style killings.

"It's just scary," Gutierrez said.

An aggressive, fiery player on the court, Gutierrez is quiet and private off it. His coaches and teammates said he never speaks about the drug war in Mexico.

"He keeps to himself," said sophomore Justin Cobbs. "Sometimes I can tell something's bothering him and I'll go to him. He'll always say, 'I'm fine.' That's just him. He don't ever put his problems on you."

Coach Mike Montgomery said he questioned Gutierrez before he went home for a week or so after classes ended last spring.

"It's pretty dangerous," Montgomery cautioned.

"It's my family," Gutierrez told him. "I just stay in the house. I don't go out much."

Gutierrez's father is a middle-school math teacher and his mother a retired nurse. He has two brothers.

"My house is the same. I love my house. It's comfortable, and my mom makes me feel welcome," Gutierrez said. "The surroundings are different. People just don't walk around like they used to at night. Everybody's looking over their shoulder."

His mother acknowledged through an interpreter last week in Tucson that their city is changed. "It's a little insecure," she said.

Gutierrez said he hasn't been touched personally by the violence. No family or friends have been hurt. That doesn't make it easier.

"It's everywhere, man. Everywhere you go, something can happen," he said. "My family just tries to stay at home or at work.

"People just starting shooting each other in the middle of the street. If you're in the wrong place, you can get hurt. If you just stay away from all the busy streets, you'll be fine."

Montgomery can only imagine how Gutierrez feels.

"I'm sure he is sad. He kind of wonders what's next," Montgomery said.

That may be the worst part of it -- there is no end in sight.

And so Gutierrez worries for his family.

"There's people dying every day," he said. "They keep living their lives, like always. They worry and I worry. But you can't do anything about it. Nobody can."

sunday's game
Washington (12-4, 4-1 Pac-10) at Cal (9-7, 2-2), 7 p.m., CSNBA