For most upper-level NCAA teams, early-season games are designed to send messages - and Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber has already had to deliver one as his team prepares to host UC Irvine on Friday night to kick off the on-campus portion of the Las Vegas Invitational. Weber’s inspirational message to one of his promising young forwards paid off in Tuesday’s win over Missouri-Kansas City.
Mawdo Sallah had struggled throughout the preseason and was a virtual non-factor in Kansas State’s season-opening 83-45 rout of American. Weber took notice, and addressed the issue with the Gambian senior prior to Tuesday’s game. “I texted him before the game and said that in those first couple of exhibition games he did not get any rebounds and that these last few games he has gotten some rebounds,” Weber told reporters. “I said that if you focus on rebounding and getting better defensively, then the other stuff will come, and he gets 11 points.” The Wildcats were far from flawless against UMKC, but will have an opportunity to work out the kinks against a UC Irvine team that is coming off consecutive victories over Denver and Division III Chapman.
TV: 9 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Kansas City
ABOUT UC IRVINE (2-1): The Anteaters come in as one of the more formidable rebounding teams in the nation, ranking 21st among Division I school in boards per game (47.7). Second-year forward Tommy Rutherford paces the UC Irvine offense at 12.7 points per game; he poured in a career-high 19 on 9-of-12 shooting in the victory over Chapman and is also averaging 7.3 rebounds. The Anteaters have combined good defense and poor shooting on behalf of their adversaries to rank 10th in the country in opponent field-goal percentage (30.8).
ABOUT KANSAS STATE (2-0): As good as UC Irvine has been on the boards, the Wildcats have been even better; they’re pulling down just 43.5 boards per game but are allowing only 25.5, good for a plus-18 average rebounding margin that ranks 13th nationally. Balanced scoring has been a trademark of the Kansas State offense to date, with six players averaging between seven and 14 points. Junior forward Dean Wade leads the way in that regard, hitting 11 of his 14 attempts from the field while adding six rebounds and 3.5 assists per game.
1. Kansas State has allowed an average of 19.5 first-half points through two games, second-fewest in all of Division I.
2. Anteaters G Eyassu Worku leads the team with five assists per game but has shot just 1-of-12 beyond the arc.
3. UC Irvine has committed 68 fouls through three games; only 10 teams have more.
PREDICTION: Kansas State 88, UC Irvine 65