BERKELEY -- Cal coach Mike Montgomery doesn't remember the first time he met the late, legendary John Wooden.

"He claims that he held me when I was a baby," Montgomery recalled this week.

On Tuesday night, Montgomery pulled even with Wooden in the record book as Cal beat Nevada 92-84 at Haas Pavilion. The victory was the 664th of Montgomery's career, tying him with the "Wizard of Westwood" for 27th-most in NCAA Division I history.

Montgomery was quick to point out that he still is 10 national championships shy of equaling what Wooden achieved at UCLA. But he was plenty proud to be standing alongside basketball's most acclaimed coach.

Cal head coach Mike Montgomery directs his players against Nevada in the first half of their basketball game at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, Calif., on
Cal head coach Mike Montgomery directs his players against Nevada in the first half of their basketball game at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

"It's just a number, but it changes the context because everybody knows what he did," Montgomery said. "From that standpoint, it's pleasing that he happens to be the person who's there. It's pretty cool."

The Bears (7-3) got their coach the milestone victory, thanks to 16 points from David Kravish and Jabari Bird and 15 points and eight assists from Justin Cobbs. Nevada (4-6) was led by Deonte Burton with 26 points.

The connection between Montgomery and Wooden has a random origin, but it grew into a friendship decades later.

Wooden arrived at UCLA before the 1948-49 season when Montgomery's father, Jack, a former three-sport athlete and assistant coach at UCLA, was working toward his Ph.D. on campus.


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Jack Montgomery and Wooden got to know each other, and one day Wooden took a turn holding infant Mike.

Years later, after Montgomery's Stanford program reached national prominence in the 1990s, the two spent time together at a variety of awards events and while serving on several committees. In 2004, Montgomery was given the John R. Wooden "Legends of Coaching" Lifetime Achievement Award.

The career victories total of Wooden -- who retired in 1975 but lived until 2010, just months shy of his 100th birthday -- has been exceeded by the likes of Mike Krzyzewski, Bob Knight and others.

Montgomery said basketball is only a part of what separates Wooden from the crowd.

"What makes him very special is just his approach to life, his philosophical approach, how he's helped so many people, his generosity with his time," Montgomery said. "That's why he meant so much to so many different people. How dedicated he was to his wife. How he had breakfast every morning at the pancake place and people would go sit with him. He made time for everybody."

More than a dozen books have been written about Wooden, a religious man who emphasized the process over results and established his "Pyramid of Success," adopted by leaders in sports and business.

Basketball aside, Montgomery struggled to find appropriate comparisons to Wooden, even evoking the names of Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi.

"Maybe it's a bad example," he said. "He's someone who transcends regular people. I just don't think there's anybody who has that charisma and philosophical depth that he had."

In conversations the two shared, including once on a long flight aboard a private jet, Wooden rarely talked the Xs and Os of basketball, Montgomery said.

"He would never criticize anybody. He might say, 'Well, I might have done things a little bit differently,' " Montgomery said. "But he loved to talk about people and life and about the way things should be."

And now, a lifetime after sitting on the knee of a legend, Montgomery can relish equaling one of Wooden's many achievements.

"Must have rubbed off," he said, laughing.

For more on Cal sports, see the Bear Talk blog at ibabuzz.com/beartalk. Follow Jeff Faraudo on Twitter at twitter.com/JeffFaraudo.

SATURDAY'S GAME

Fresno State (6-4) at Cal (7-3), 3 p.m. Pac-12 Network