BERKELEY -- Barely two weeks after sizzling on the grill of unwanted national attention, Mike Montgomery still rages along the sideline, his cheeks turning crimson and his eyes glowing like hot coals.
The demeanor of the Cal coach has not changed much since his infamous shove of his star player on Feb. 17, nor should it be expected to. He's 66, has done a lot of winning for a lot of years and done it his way.
What has changed since the final 16 minutes of what became a 76-68 win over USC is Montgomery's team.
The Golden Bears were heating up even before Montgomery was the subject of uproarious debate after his two-hand push of junior guard Allen Crabbe. They had won four of five, the last two consecutively over Pac-12 contenders Arizona and UCLA.
Now, though, the Bears are positively scorching. They sealed the USC victory with a frenzied 25-7 rush and have not stopped.
When Cal plays host to archrival Stanford on Wednesday in the regular-season finale for both teams, the Bears will roll into Haas Pavilion having won seven in a row -- their longest streak in 10 years.
What's particularly notable is how the Bears (20-9, 12-5 Pac-12) are doing it.
They're getting grimy, doing the dirty work, grinding teams out and wearing them down. Their defensive intensity is cranked so high that it's making opponents uncomfortable.
They're playing defense the way Montgomery coaches -- with a fury.
"Defense is not the glamorous part . . . it's not the sexy part," Montgomery said. "But they've kind of accepted that. They've kind of gotten involved in that. I think they're taking some pride in that."
Over the second half of its conference schedule, Cal is making the effort a coach loves to see, hustling on the uncelebrated end of the court. The Bears are harassing opponents, whether defending in the customary man-to-man or using the occasional zone wrinkle.
Cal has held its past four opponents to an average of 49.2 points on 33.5 percent shooting. In their 62-46 win over Colorado on Saturday, the Bears forced the Buffaloes to miss 50 of their 65 shots.
"They contest everything, they give you no shots easily, they swarm the ball," analyst Ernie Kent, the former Saint Mary's and Oregon coach, said this week on "Pac-12 Playbook." "They're everywhere on the floor. This Cal team is unbelievable defensively the second time around."
The Bears, who don't shoot especially well, now lead the Pac-12 in field-goal percentage defense, holding teams to 39 percent. Moreover, their past seven opponents are shooting 33.5 percent. For perspective, national field-goal percentage defense leader Kansas is holding teams to 35.4 percent.
"It's energy and attitude," summarized sophomore forward David Kravish.
"I'm not sure they thought, 'Man, isn't this great?' " Montgomery said of his team's dedication to defense. "But it has translated to winning."
This is a testament to the focus and will of the coaching staff and the players, who avoided being derailed by the potentially volatile moment created by the Montgomery-Crabbe controversy against USC. It was a clear case of a coach losing his emotional grip and a player who initially seethed.
After being calmed by his teammates, Crabbe not only went back into the game and lit up the Trojans but also joined his teammates in playing relentless, remorseless defense.
Rather than collapse or rebel in the aftermath, the Bears have unified.
As flippant as Montgomery's initial response to striking his player was -- "hey, it worked" -- there is no denying his team has since played its fieriest basketball. And it's most visible on defense.
"In order to give ourselves a chance to win, we feel like we have to defend," the coach said. "If we have that mindset, it allows us to stay in games until we can figure things out offensively.
"They've done a good job of kind of listening to what we have to do . . . they're paying attention."
Cal is peaking at precisely right time, as postseason tournaments loom. The Bears have escaped the middle of the Pac-12 standings, are firmly among the top four and in position to earn the regular-season championship.
Moreover, three weeks after being generally considered "on the bubble" for the NCAA tournament, they have practically locked up a berth. Against Stanford on Wednesday night and through the conference tournament next week, they're playing for seeding.
With solid guards Justin Cobbs and Crabbe, big men Richard Solomon and Kravish making a difference, and freshman wing Tyrone Wallace playing as if he belongs, the Bears have the potential to make a run.
Cal has recovered nicely, whether a result of working through conflict or committing to defense or, possibly, realizing what it takes to summon the best efforts of all involved.
If Montgomery wanted a team in his image, he has it. And it's all good, as long as the similarities stay within the boundaries of respectful conduct.
by the numbers
Average points scored by Cal's opponents during the Bears' seven-game winning streak.
Field goal percentage by Cal's opponents over the past seven games.
Wednesday's game » Stanford (17-13, 8-9 Pac-12) at Cal (20-9, 12-5), 8 p.m. ESPN2