One of the most accomplished coaches in Pac-12 history, Mike Montgomery is at it again.
The California coach, who annually tangled with former UA coach Lute Olson while building perennial contenders at Stanford from 1987 to 2004, led the Bears to their first league title in 50 years in 2009-10 and is in good position to collect another this season.
This despite lacking much depth - only six active players average double-figure minutes - even before starting center Richard Solomon was declared academically ineligible last month.
The Bears are tied with Washington at 7-2 for first place, but they have already beaten the Huskies and won't have to face them in a rematch during the regular season because of the Pac-12's unbalanced schedule.
They also won't have to visit McKale Center this season, meaning tonight's game is the only crack that the Wildcats will have at familiar Cal standouts Jorge Gutierrez, Allen Crabbe and Harper Kamp.
It won't be easy.
"They have a great team and they have older players executing," UA coach Sean Miller said. "They really have a way of identifying single players in roles. … They have players in the right roles and, obviously, Mike Montgomery does a really good job of coaching them."
Here are three keys to the Bears' success so far this season:
Miller calls Crabbe and Gutierrez the "heart and soul" of the Bears, and the gritty Gutierrez has become the face of the Bears. The Chihuahua, Mexico, native has a nearly 2-1 assist to turnover ratio, leads the team in steals, is Cal's third leading rebounder and contributes in many other ways not quantified by a box score.
"Gutierrez is one of those guys you hate to play against but would love to have as a teammate," UA forward Solomon Hill said. "He does little things that other guys really don't take in."
No doubt, Miller wouldn't mind having Gutierrez on his team, too.
"He's a terrific player," Miller said. "Gutierrez is so clever. He can beat you with the pass or the shot."
Crabbe, meanwhile, not only has superlative shooting skills but also effectively works to get the best possible shot.
"Crabbe is great without the ball," Miller said. "He really uses screens well, is a terrific shooter and Cal does a great job of screening to get him shots."
Because of their experience, intelligence and what Miller calls "great team chemistry," the Bears work constantly to find good shots.
"I think they're one of the best executing offensive teams we'll see all year," said UA assistant coach Joe Pasternack, a former Cal assistant who scouted the Bears. "They really do a great job of setting hard screens. They cut so hard off those screens and they just execute."
Nobody figures to be a target of those screens more than UA guard Kyle Fogg, and he's bracing for it.
"They're very well-coached and they really execute their screens," Fogg said. "They make sure they pass the ball where it's supposed to be passed."
Justin Cobbs is just a sophomore point guard but he's already in his third year of college and has played one high-level year of basketball at Minnesota.
That matters, Miller says.
"He played in the Big Ten and also sat out last year where he was practicing every day, and I think there's something to be said for that," Miller said. "So now he's older, he's more experienced and he knows their system. He seems to be very comfortable as their point guard."
Plus he's quick. Cal is deceivingly up-tempo, averaging 72.2 points a game, and Cobbs is a major reason why.
"Justin Cobbs makes all the difference in the world between this year's team and last year's team" at Cal, Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. "He has really, really changed the way they play. They have a little better push in that area. He also controls what they're doing in the halfcourt. … He makes everything they do more efficient. They're just executing at a high level and they can really make you look bad."
• What: Arizona at California
• When; TV: 9 p.m.; FSAZ