After the Aztecs captured back-to-back quad one wins against Boise State and Utah State, they took on the #82 UNLV Runnin Rebels, a quad three opponent (playing a team at home who is ranked 76-160 in RPI). The Red and Black were 8-0 against quad-three opponents coming into the match.
Head coach Brian Dutcher said after the 63-61 win over Utah State that he hopes for a big crowd at Viejas Arena when it comes time for tip-off.
“We’ll spend the night here (in Logan, Ut.), get on a flight, practice as soon as we land, and get ready to play UNLV at Viejas,” Dutcher said. “Aztec fans, come on out, get there early and support our team. We need you.”
Dutcher got his wish, and the Aztecs defeated the Runnin Rebels 82-71 to get their 20th win of the season behind another great bench performance, efficient shooting, and great defense.
Nathan Mensah got the game started on the Aztecs’ first possession with a dunk that erupted Viejas Arena. Up until the first TV timeout, Keshad Johnson had nine of SDSU’s first 14 points.
At the 14:17 mark, Elijah Harkless, the leading scorer for the Runnin Rebels, put in UNLV’s first three-pointer of the afternoon. The Aztecs led 14-9.
After Jordan Mccabe made a stepback jumper at the 12:45 mark, it went all SDSU’s way.
The Aztecs went on a 14-0 run, and the 13th and 14th point was made on a Matt Bradley slam dunk that blew the roof of the arena. The Runnin Rebels were forced to take a timeout to stop the bleeding.
Harkless nailed UNLV’s second three of the game to stop SDSU’s run. The fifth-year guard had eight of the Runnin Rebels’ 14 points, as they were down by 16 points.
After the timeout, UNLV would only get their points from the charity stripe for about four minutes, as Harkless and Luis Rodriguez combined for seven of eight from the free-throw line.
During that time as well, the Aztecs were lighting it up from beyond the arc, as Adam Seiko knocked down two threes and Bradley knocked down one. SDSU led 39-21.
Rodriguez would get two free throws after that, and the Red and Black led 43-23 at halftime.
The Aztecs kept UNLV to 18.2% beyond the arc and 25% from the field in the first 20 minutes.
The SDSU bench was great in the first half, with 14 of the Aztecs 43 points. Seiko led the way off the bench with nine points and shot only from the three-point line, going three for seven.
Johnson led the way with 12 points for the Aztecs, while Harkless led the way with 14 points for UNLV.
Sixteen of SDSU’s 43 points came within the paint, as Mensah had six of his seven points that came from slam dunks. He was a perfect three-for-three from the field.
The Aztecs were great defensively in the first half, with four steals, three blocks, and 13 defensive rebounds. The Red and Black led on the glass overall 22 to 11.
In the first four minutes of the second half, UNLV went on a 11-5 run to cut the Aztecs’ lead to 14 but couldn’t continue to pile it on.
SDSU stopped the Runnin Rebels’ early momentum with an 8-0 run to jump to a 22-point lead.
For six minutes, the Aztecs kept within a 20-point lead, then UNLV went on an 8-0 run to cut the SDSU lead to 15 but had trouble getting any closer. The Red and Black went on an 8-0 run to gain a 23-point lead, were left comfortable, and took their foot off the gas late in the game.
Despite UNLV cutting it close at the end and SDSU without a field goal in the last 3:35, the Aztecs won 82-71 to stay atop of the Mountain West at 11-2.
“Really happy with the win today,” Dutcher said postgame. “I thought it was important to do what we’re doing at a high level, and that’s sharing the ball, we had 23 assists, rebounding the ball at the offensive end, we had 18 offensive rebounds. I’m extremely pleased with the victory.”
The Aztecs had a great contribution from their bench again, which had 33 points in the afternoon. Seiko had 18 of those 33, and Parrish had nine.
“We’re the deepest team in the conference,” Bradley said postgame. “When we get production from everybody, that’s a first-place team that you’re looking at.”
Johnson, Mensah, and Bradley combined for 42 points and were 16 for 24 from the field.
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Before Harkless fouled out, he left with 24 points and shot five for 12 from the field, and went 11 for 13 from the charity stripe. Keshad Gilbert was a big reason for UNLV making a run late and finished with 19 points on seven for 12 shooting.
Despite the win, the Aztecs had 21 turnovers, and the Runnin Rebels capitalized on them for 21 points. UNLV had ten turnovers that SDSU capitalized on for 10 points.
SDSU limited UNLV to 27.3% from the three, and since the end of the Boise State game, they have limited their opponent to 22% from beyond the arc.
“The emphasis of every practice is defense,” Bradley said postgame. “Limiting teams that go off of three’s…Coach Dutch (Dutcher) and the coaching staff they’ve been on us about our defense.”
The Aztecs head back on the road for one game in Fresno, Calif., to play the Fresno State Bulldogs for the first and possibly last time (if Fresno State doesn’t make it to the Mountain West tournament in March) on Wednesday, Feb.15, at 8 PM PST.
Adam is a senior at San Diego State University studying journalism & media studies. He is a huge sports fanatic who was born and raised in Vancouver, B.C. His favorite sports teams are the Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Padres, Toronto Raptors, and San Diego Wave FC. He also writes and reports for The Daily Aztec. When he graduates, he wants to become a sports writer or reporter for a news organization or TV station.