MANHATTAN — The Kansas State basketball team has already found its identity on defense.
Three games is rarely a large-enough sample size to recognize the big-picture traits of any squad, but it's clear the Wildcats take great pride in making their opponents miss shots.
K-State's defensive acumen was on full display during a 71-49 victory over UC Irvine on Friday at Bramlage Coliseum. The Wildcats (3-0) held the Anteaters (2-2) to 29.6-percent shooting, and made life difficult for them every time they attacked the basket.
No one on UC Irvine's roster reached double figures. Sophomore forward Brad Greene led the way with nine points inside, while none of his teammates could score more than seven. The Anteaters found it particularly difficult from three-point range, where they made 4 of 20 attempts.
The Wildcats also forced 17 turnovers and limited UC Irvine to 10 assists on 16 field goals.
This is nothing new. K-State also flexed its defensive muscles in lopsided victories over American and UMKC. Those opponents were overmatched. This was supposed to be a more difficult test.
UC Irvine was the preseason pick to win the Big West Conference, and a considerable step up in competition. College basketball statistician ranked the Anteaters 176th nationally Friday morning, more than 100 spots higher than K-State's first two opponents.
It didn't matter. The result was another easy K-State victory.
The Wildcats put this one away early by scoring the first 11 points of the night. Barry Brown got things going with a three-pointer, Dean Wade followed with a three of his own, Xavier Sneed threw down a dunk and Wade finished off the run with three more points.
All the while, K-State players fought on defense.
UC Irvine made a few small runs to pull within single digits at different times, but K-State led 37-24 at halftime and controlled things throughout.
Kamau Stokes led the way on offense, scoring a season-high 14 points on eight shots. He hasn't had a truly big game this season, but this was a step in the right direction, considering he did most of his damage within the arc and only took three shots from the outside.
Xavier Sneed was also a strong contributor adding 12 points and five rebounds. The sophomore wing played with noticeable from the start, at one point deflecting a pass at midcourt and diving out of bounds for the loose ball when there was little chance he could save it.
Cartier Diarra also reached double figures, scoring 10 points.
K-State will hope to build off this effort when it next takes the court against Northern Arizona on Monday.