UC Irvine's basketball team, which had lost two games in a row, came to the realization that it was faced with two options:
--Turn up the intensity on defense and get the ball into center Wayne Engelstad on offense.
--Or keep losing.
Saturday at the Bren Center, the Anteaters showed they are capable of doing both as they coasted to a 79-62 Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. victory over New Mexico State in front of 1,507 fans.
Irvine's pressing man-to-man defense forced nine first-half turnovers and held the Aggies to just 11 points in the first 15 1/2 minutes. And Engelstad made 14 of 23 field-goal attempts, sank 11 of 12 free throws, scored 40 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.
"Their defense totally took us out of everything we tried to do, and Engelstad owned us," Aggie Coach Neil McCarthy said. "He completely thwarted any plans we had for a comeback."
Irvine (10-8 overall and 5-4 in PCAA play) led at halftime, 40-19, after holding New Mexico State (12-10, 4-5) to 27% shooting before halftime. The Aggies closed the margin to nine points (71-62) with 4:30 remaining, but Engelstad scored on a spinning reverse layup, two free throws and an 18-foot jumper in the final three minutes.
It was that kind of afternoon for the 6-foot 8-inch, 250-pound senior. Engelstad is fifth on Irvine's all-time scoring list with 1,250 points and needs 225 to catch No. 1, Kevin Magee.
In the early going, it was the Anteater defense that stole the show, however. New Mexico State scored just four points during a 12-minute stretch midway through the first half.
It was hard to tell whether the Anteaters' defensive pressure or the ease with which they ran their offense was the greater source of frustration for the Aggies.
"We had great intensity on defense, especially in the first half," Engelstad said. "I feel like I could sleep for two days, and I wasn't even one of the guys out there clogging the lanes. I can't imagine how the guards feel."
Engelstad, of course, was expending most of his energy on the offensive end, but he still slipped in 40 points without burning all that many calories. New Mexico State trailed from the outset and was forced to play man-to-man most of the game.
Irvine shot 53% and made 22 of 24 free throws. Reserve forward Mike Doktorczyk was the only other Anteater in double figures with 10 points. But the lack of balance didn't seem to bother anyone.