Cal men’s basketball to host UC Santa Barbara on Monday

Audrey McNamara/Staff

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Ivan Rabb settled into his chair and waited for the press conference to begin after his first official collegiate game.

In front of more than 10,000 expectant fans in the newly renovated Haas Pavilion on Friday, the No. 14 Bears had just notched a 97-65 win over overmatched Rice in their season opener. The freshman forward had contributed 14 points and 13 rebounds, kicking off what many imagine will be an illustrious Cal career, despite how brief it could be.

“I feel like we were overprepared for this game,” Rabb said. “Our coaches put us in the right positions with the scouting report, and I feel like we came out and we executed our plan so well that we had a good time easing into the game.”

With Rabb and fellow freshman Jaylen Brown headlining a top-10 recruiting class, the 2015-16 edition of the Cal men’s basketball team has been pegged to turn in one of the most memorable seasons in program history.

But before the more notable matchups and before the start of the all-important conference season, the Bears must continue to dominate a host of cupcake teams, including UC Santa Barbara, which Cal will welcome to Berkeley on Monday.

Cal last faced the Gauchos two seasons ago in a 72-65 loss, when former Bears Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon were still holding the reins. Though there will be many familiar faces Monday night — including guards Tyrone Wallace, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews — Cal will be expecting a wildly different outcome, especially with Rabb and Brown leading the team.

UCSB, a member of the mid-major Big West Conference, finished with a 19-14 record last season and is returning three of its starters, including senior guard Michael Bryson, who averaged 13.9 points per game last year. Bryson was not eligible to play in the Gauchos’ game at Nebraska-Omaha on Friday, serving his one-game suspension for playing in an unsanctioned summer league game.

The looming question for UCSB, however, is how the team will replace the production of center Alan Williams, whose graduation leaves the Gauchos without one of the most storied players in program history. Williams, the 2014 Big West Player of the Year, averaged 32.6 minutes, 17.3 points and 11.8 rebounds per game last season. Without Williams to lead the way, the Gauchos will have to lean on Bryson, along with 2014-15 Freshman of the Year Gabe Vincent. The guard tallied 57 3-pointers last season, good for second-most all-time in program history.

Though the Bears will be expected to dispatch the Gauchos easily, Cal will have an opportunity to continue to tinker with its lineup and will need to demonstrate that the high expectations surrounding the team are warranted.

“I don’t care what the talent says. There have been so many teams over the past 50 years ranked this and ranked that but don’t pan out and don’t execute,” said Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin. “It’s one game at a time — that’s how I look at it. Easier said than done, but we still have a lot of things to work on.”

Michelle Lee covers men’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @michelle_e_lee.