The #23 Aztecs returned home to Viejas Arena to play the Nevada Wolf Pack, who they were 12-1 against on their home court coming into the contest and riding an eight-game winning streak versus them. The result of the game would determine who was in first place in the Mountain West.
The Red and Black had a commanding 24-6 lead in the all-time series versus Nevada coming into the game, but this season they were playing a very strong Wolf Pack team who had a 14-3 overall record and a 4-0 conference record.
SDSU narrowly beat Nevada in their last contest. On March 5, 2022, the Aztecs defeated the Wolf Pack 79-78 behind a 24-point performance from Matt Bradley, who made 11 free throws on 12 attempts. The Red and Black were up 36-33 at the half, but Nevada won the better of the second half, scoring 45 points to the Aztecs’ 43 and almost making a comeback.
After completing two road conference wins against UNLV and Wyoming, head coach Brian Dutcher, who had a 11-2 overall record and a 6-0 record at home against Nevada in his time running the team, was excited to be back in Viejas Arena.
“Aztec fans let’s fill it (Viejas Arena) up,” Dutcher said after the 80-75 win against Wyoming. “Let’s make it a hard place for Nevada to come into play.”
The Aztecs came back to a packed and loud Viejas Arena, won 74-65 to take first place in the Mountain West, and survived an almost late comeback by the Wolf Pack, which was almost like deja vu from the last match-up.
After Keshad Johnson stole the ball from Darrion Williams on the Wolf Packs’ opening possession, Lamont Butler set up Johnson for a dunk on the Aztecs’ first possession to electrify Viejas Arena.
The Red and Black would go on a 10-0 run until Williams made a three to end it.
The Aztecs commanded a comfortable lead over the Wolf Pack in the first half, limiting Nevada to 20% beyond the arc and finishing the half with a 44-27 lead.
SDSU controlled the ball decently and only committed two turnovers, while Nevada had six turnovers that the Aztecs capitalized on for 12 points.
The Aztecs kept the Nevada bench from scoring until the 3:58 mark of the first half. Nick Davidson made two free throws to give the Wolf Pack their first bench points. Davidson was the only one to score off the bench in the first 20 minutes with four points.
SDSU shared the ball well and had 11 assists in the first half, while Nevada only had four.
The only player to make it into double digits for either team was Matt Bradley, who had 11 points, went three for eight from the field and three for four from the charity stripe.
Johnson almost made it into double digits, finishing the first half with nine points and going four for six from the field.
7’ 0 Nevada forward Will Baker led his team with seven points on two-for-four shooting from the field.
Jarod Lucas, the leading scorer for the Wolf Pack, put in the first points of the second half on a fadeaway jumper.
That basket did not spark anything for the Wolf Pack, as the Aztecs continued to have a commanding lead over Nevada.
After the 11:33 mark of the second half, SDSU sparked a 9-0 run and got their biggest lead of the game at 65-43. The arena roared after Nevada called a timeout.
When Bradley made a lay-up at the 5:09 mark to make it 71-50, it stirred momentum in Nevada’s favor after that basket. The Wolf Pack went on an 11-0 run to trail by nine. Davidson would get six points during the run for the Wolf Pack, as the Aztecs led 71-62.
“I think the main problem was fatigue; we were tired,” Bradley said postgame on the last five minutes of the game. “We’ve been in pressure situations earlier in the season, we’ve done a better job, and I think we’re not handling the pressure good enough.”
With 40 seconds remaining, Adam Seiko was fouled; he went to the charity stripe and made both of his free throws to end the Wolf Packs’ run.
SDSU survived and won 74-65 to get to 13-3 overall and hand Nevada their fourth loss of the season.
“That was a great performance,” Dutcher said postgame. “The first half was probably as good as we played all year. Then the second half, we let off the pressure a little bit defensively, they (Nevada) went and got a little comfortable, and at a timeout, I told them (SDSU) the difference in the half is your ball pressure isn’t that good. So we picked up our ball pressure again and grew the lead to 20 against a really good Nevada team.”
Nevada outscored the Red and Black 38 to 30 in the second half and shot 45.2% from the field in the second half.
The Aztec defense stepped up the whole game defending from the three-point line, as the Wolf Pack was an ice-cold 20% beyond the arc.
Bradley led the team with 17 points, went five for 14 from the field, five for seven at the free throw line, and had ten rebounds. Butler and Johnson were also in double digits, combined for 26 points and nine for 17 from the field.
Davidson was great off the bench for Nevada, scoring 17 points and going 50% from the field. Three other Wolf Pack players were in double-digit scoring as well.
After only getting four bench points in the first half, Nevada finished with 24 bench points, outsourcing SDSU bench players by seven.
The Aztecs stay at Viejas Arena for their next game, which is against the New Mexico Lobos at 6 pm PST on Saturday, January 14.