SDSU Aztecs vs UNLV Rebels Game Preview

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Credit: Don De Mars/EVT

Game Details

Date: Saturday, January 6, 2024

Time: 1:00 pm PT

TV: CBS (Rich Waltz and Clark Kellogg)

Radio: San Diego Sports 760 AM

Location: Viejas Arena (San Diego, CA)

Records: SDSU 12-2 (1-0), UNLV 7-5 (0-0)

Series: SDSU 42-37 (SDSU 5-game winning streak)

Both teams enter this contest on winning streaks. The Aztecs, winners of five straight, host the Rebels, winners of three straight. The game features the Rebels’ first conference game of the season, while the Aztecs play their second conference game in four days. 

Against Fresno State on Wednesday, the Aztecs shot a season-high 52.6% from the field and improved their record under head coach Brian Dutcher to 56-1 when shooting at least 50% in a game. The offensive precision was fueled by the first ten minutes of the second half when the Aztecs doubled a 13-pt halftime lead to 26 by making 10 of 12 (83.3%) attempts. 

Jaedon LeDee’s 21 points (9-12 FG) continued his streak of scoring in double figures in every game he has played in this season, and making it his eighth game (out of 13) with at least 20 points. 

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Micah Parrish bounced back from a poor performance against Gonzaga with 11 points and seven rebounds against Fresno State. Outside his individual statistical output, he tied LeDee with a team-high +27 plus/minus ratio.

UNLV Scouting Report

The Rebels three-game winning streak is against Hofstra and two non-D1 teams (Carroll College and Bethesda), but their two prior games were a victory against then No. 8 Creighton and a double-overtime loss to St. Mary’s. 

Four players average double figures in scoring. Luis Rodriguez and Kalib Boone (Oklahoma State transfer) lead the team with 12.5 ppg. Boone is also first in the conference, blocking 1.8 shots, and second, shooting 65.3% from the field. True freshman PG Dedan Thomas Jr is right behind them with 12.3 ppg to go with his 14th-best-in-the-nation 6.3 apg. 

Jalen Hill (Oklahoma transfer) is fourth, averaging 11.5 ppg. After missing the last six games with a wrist injury, Hill is expected to play against the Aztecs to give the Rebels more firepower on the court and head coach Kevin Kruger availability of his full roster for the first time this season. 

Dutcher noted on Friday that the Rebels have improved since they started the season with four losses in seven games, and with five 5th-year seniors, they are as dangerous as any team in the conference. The media picked the Rebels to finish sixth in the conference during a preseason vote. 

Credit: Don De Mars/EVT

Kalib’s twin brother, Keylan Boone, also transferred into UNLV this year (Pacific). After initially being ineligible to play this season as a two-time transfer, a court ruling pushed the NCAA in December to allow those with multiple transfers to play during this academic year. After missing the first seven games, Keylan suited up against Creighton and helped the team pull off the upset with 10 points and six rebounds. In five games, he averages 9.6 ppg and a team-high 8.0 rpg.  

This will only be UNLV’s second true road game of the season. In their first one on November 17, they defeated Pepperdine 82-68. 

UNLV Player to Watch

Dedan Thomas, Jr. (12.3 ppg, 6.3 apg, 45.8% FG, 41.4% 3P, 71.4% FT, 2.8 A/T, 34.3 mpg): The Las Vegas native and 5-star recruit reclassified and signed with his hometown school heading into the 2023-2024 school year. Thomas, who was voted the Mountain West Preseason Freshman of the Year by the media, was rated as the 22nd-best prospect in the Class of 2024 by 247Sports.

The 6-1, 170 lbs. guard is a smooth, left-handed player who can attack a defense many different ways. He does not have elite size but uses his elite ball-handling skills to get to wherever he wants to on the court. 

Lamont Butler, the reigning Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year, has earned his defensive prowess by shutting down the best lead guards in the conference over the past three years and will get the assignment against Thomas.

“He’s really good at attacking pressure,” said Butler when asked his thoughts on Thomas. “He’s a freshman, but he plays 36, 37 minutes a game (so) that (says) a lot about him. I’ve seen him a little bit in high school, so I know how good of a player he is and what he is capable of.”

Dutcher compared Thomas to be on the same trajectory as another elite point guard, Colorado State’s Isaiah Stevens, on Friday, adding, “he’s a dynamic player and just scratching the surface of what he is going to become.”

Credit: Don De Mars/EVT

SDSU Keys to Victory

  1. Health. The storyline following the win against the Bulldogs centered around the status of Reese Waters (ankle) and Miles Byrd (turf toe). Both left the game with injuries and did not return. Dutcher said on Friday that both are progressing and will be game-time decisions but added that Waters is more likely to play than Byrd, who was in a walking boot on his right lower leg during warmups before practice on Friday. For a team that was beginning to build a 9-man cohesive rotation that could propel them through another grueling conference schedule, the injuries came at a difficult time. With true freshman BJ Davis potentially not ready for regular minutes, the status of Waters and Byrd, short-term and long-term, will be critical. Having at least one of the two on the court will help the Aztecs matchup with the Rebels’ talented wings and keep from having to play Lamont Butler and Darrion Trammell 35+ minutes together. Dutcher also added that Jay Pal would slide over from the 4 position and play more minutes at the 3 if either or both players were unavailable.
  2. Rebounding. On December 20, Dutcher mentioned rebounding as the primary area the team would need to improve upon heading into conference play. When asked Friday whether he believes the improvement has progressed as he envisioned, Dutcher said yes but noted it would be a concern throughout the season. “I think we are getting better, but it’s only through hard work,” Dutcher said about the topic. “Sometimes you get instinctual rebounders, (but) we don’t seem to have that. We have to work every day at rebounding, and it’s on the practice plan every day.” The Aztecs have won 19 straight games when outrebounding their opponent. In their two losses at BYU and Grand Canyon, they lost the rebounding battle by 10 and 8, respectively. The three other games the team lost the rebounding battle this season were in the overtime victory against Cal, the narrow 1-pt win over UC Irvine, and the 10-pt victory against Gonzaga. For the season, the Rebels average 35.7 rebounds per game and allow 36.2 (-0.5 margin). The Aztecs hold a +3.7 margin (38.1-34.4).
  3. Turnovers. The Rebels only commit 11.1 turnovers per game but force 14.2, leading to 16.7 points off turnovers per game. A large part of their ability to force turnovers is collecting 8.1 spg, led by Rodriguez’s 2.1. Their disruptive defense is heavily aided by 5.2 blocks. The Aztecs will need to be careful with the ball and aware of the defenders around them, specifically in the paint. The Aztecs have protected the ball well most of the year (except for late-game execution against a full-court press), only committing 10.9 turnovers. They have forced 13.4 and scored 16.5 points off them. Whichever team can cause more havoc on the defensive end that leads to easier transition baskets will have a great chance of winning the game.

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