The Aztecs capped off 2022 on New Year’s Eve with a big conference match-up against the UNLV Runnin Rebels, who are one of the seven Mountain West teams with double-digit wins in Las Vegas. The Red and Black came off a 71-55 win against the Air Force Falcons to extend their undefeated streak to 8-0 at Viejas Arena, which also got them to 10 wins on the season.
The Runnin Rebels were 1-2 in their last three games coming into the contest versus SDSU, dropping their conference opener against the SJSU Spartans 72-75 on Wednesday and taking their first loss of the season away from the Thomas & Mack Center.
The Aztecs were 40-37 overall against the Runnin Rebels coming into the game but 21-22 at the Thomas & Mack Center. Under head coach Brian Dutcher, the team is 8-2 overall versus UNLV and 5-1 away from Viejas.
“[UNLV] is dangerous offensively,” Dutcher said after the win against Air Force on Wednesday. “It is going to be a completely different game than we saw today.”
University of San Francisco was the only team to beat the Runnin Rebels in their home arena, and with SDSU coming into the game with a three-game winning streak, they looked to give UNLV their first back-to-back losses of the season, and they did just that.
The Aztecs defeated the Runnin Rebels 76-67, dropping UNLV to 11-3 with great shooting beyond the arc and solid defending.
“We showed up in the arena,” assistant coach David Velasquez said postgame. “Very proud of our guys.”
Luis Rodriguez got the game started for the Runnin Rebels with a jumper that was assisted by Keshon Gilbert.
Matt Bradley’s five early points for the Aztecs helped contain a lead over UNLV, but then at 15:35 mark, the Runnin Rebels stormed back.
Bradley turned the ball over, it was picked up by Ej Harkless, who then laid the ball up for Rodriguez, and he put in a lay-up to give UNLV an 11-10 lead.
The Runnin Rebels were on an 11-0 run before Aguek Arop ended it with a slam dunk to cut UNLV’s lead to five.
UNLV controlled the lead for about six minutes until Arop hit a lay-up at the 8:40 mark to tie the game at 21-21. Then on SDSU’s ensuing drive, Arop dunked the ball to give them their second-game lead.
After UNLV’s Victor Iwuakor hit a second chance lay-up to tie the game at 23-23, the Aztecs went on an 8-0 run with two three-pointers by Bradley and Darrion Trammell and a lay-up by Arop. McCabe ended the Aztecs’ run with a shot beyond the arc as they trailed the Red and Black by five.
SDSU didn’t give up the lead since then and ended the half with a 44-33 lead.
Arop was the difference maker off the bench, scoring 10 points in 10 minutes on five-for-five shooting.
In 17 minutes played, Bradley scored 14 points, went four-for-seven beyond the arc, and two-for-two from the charity stripes.
No player on the Runnin Rebels went into double-digit scoring, as Justin Webster and Rodriguez both had seven points to end the first half.
The Aztecs were strong beyond the arc in the first half, going 57.1%, while limiting UNLV to 28.6% from three-point range. SDSU got eight of 17 field goals from bonus distance.
Rodriguez opened the second half with a three-pointer almost three minutes in to give him 10 points on the afternoon.
Then, Bradley made a jumper for his first points inside the arc, which gave him 16 points and the team a 10-point lead.
After the Runnin Rebels went on a 7-0 run to cut the Aztecs’ lead to 48-43, Trammell was fouled beyond the arc and made two-of-three free throws. SDSU led 50-43.
The SDSU defense kept UNLV off the board for over four minutes, as the Runnin Rebels were 0-for-six from the field during that time.
The Aztecs were cooking up offensively with two shots beyond the arc by Bradley and Trammell that extended their lead to 57-43.
Webster ended the Runnin Rebels’ scoring drought with a shot beyond the arc of his own to cut the SDSU lead to 11.
UNLV would then go on an 11-2 run where Rodriguez would get a career-high 20 points. SDSU led 59-54.
Although Rodriguez started heating up in the second half, the Runnin Rebels couldn’t come back, and the Aztecs ended 2022 with a massive 76-67 win to improve to 11-3.
SDSU finished the game on 45.1% shooting from the field and 52.4% beyond the arc. Eleven of 23 field goals came from bonus distance.
The Aztecs, who were ranked No. 13 in adjusted defense before the game, according to Kenpoem, limited UNLV to 36.7% shooting from the field.
“We put more of an emphasis [on the defense] behind the scenes,” Velasquez said. “I think we just got comfortable.”
Bradley finished the game with 23 points, went six-for-14 from the field, while Trammell heated up in the second half and finished with 21 points and went four-for-five beyond the arc.
“It showed very well today,” Trammell said postgame on the shooting performance beyond the arc. “Everyone’s in the gym every day [and] we get up shots together.”
Rodriguez finished the game with 24 points, went eight-for-14 from the field, and four-for-eight beyond the arc, while Ej Harkless had 18 points, went six-for-19 from the field, and was perfect from the free-throw line.
The Aztecs outrebounded the Runnin Rebels 39 to 28 and had more bench points (20-to-eight).]
Despite the loss, UNLV had more points on turnovers (18 to 16), points in the paint (20 to 18), and second-chance points (17 to 12).
The Aztecs next match-up continues on the road as they travel to Laramie, Wyoming, to take on the Wyoming Cowboys (5-8, 0-1 MWC) next weekend at 1 pm, Saturday, January 7.