Three keys to an Aztecs victory over Nevada

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Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports
1. Short memory with NBA mindset
San Diego State has run into issues of consistency during their conference play.
 
“Our kids fight,” stated Brian Dutcher in Friday night’s post-game press conference loss to Colorado State. “I told them, ‘We’re not a program that’s into moral victories,’ You hang 14 banners for a reason because you don’t lose games like this.”
 
The Aztecs erased a 20-point deficit late in the second half but fell short to the Rams, 58-57. With the loss, they are on the edge of missing out on March Madness. On Saturday morning, their NET ranking dropped to 49 from 48, and ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi team projects Dutcher’s as one of the last teams in, possibly playing in the First Four in Dayton, OH.
 
“We have to have an NBA mentality,” said Brian Dutcher of the match with Nevada. “We have to get on the plane [and] fly home, prepare for one day and play a game at one o’clock [on Sunday] after all the energy we put into this one.”
 
The Aztecs left Fort Collins with a sour taste, but to win on Sunday means focus preparation and channeling their frustration. Going home, SDSU is still known to bounce back after losing. They’re 13-1 in the last 14 matches after a loss. When playing at Viejas immediately after a defeat, they are 20-0. This includes last week’s 72-47 home win against New Mexico.
Credit: Cali Camera/ EVT Sports
Matt Bradley and company must hone in on the opponent in front of them with a professional mindset to overcome their mistakes. The home team cannot afford any more conference losses before the Mountain West Conference Tournament.
 
2. Continue their dominance of Nevada at home
 
Dutcher’s team has the edge at home against the Nevada Wolf Pack (9-11, 3-8 MW), who visits Viejas with a four-game losing streak. Overall, SDSU has won six straight versus Nevada and leads the series all-time, 22-6.
 
Coach Steve Alford’s got offensive talent on his roster as he has four current players averaging double-figures in scoring. Guards Grant Sherfield is at 18.3 points per game, Desmond Cambridge scoring 15.5 points per game, forward Will Baker recording 11.7 points per game, and center Warren Washington having 10.1 points per game. However, Alford has been missing Washington for three straight opponents and Sherfield for two, and both players may miss Sunday’s match.
 
Aztec fans might remember guard Desmond Cambridge, who caught fire playing San Diego State during the 2018-2019 season where he suited up for Brown University and dropped 25 points, shooting 9-of-15 from the field and 7-of-11 from the arc. The redshirt senior should garner attention from SDSU defenders as he is coming off a 16-point, ten rebound double-double in a loss to Fresno State. This season he’s 54.2% on two-point shots and with the possibility of two starters out again, look for Cambridge to shoulder more of the offense against SDSU.
 
The Aztecs allowed three CSU Rams to score in double-digits, including David Roddy’s 22 points. At Viejas, it’s going to take tired point guards to follow close because he’s going to drive and pull up for higher-percentage shots. Expect Trey Pulliam to keep up or even Chad Baker-Mazara, who only contributed eight minutes in Friday night’s game. Holding Cambridge to under 10 points would help SDSU recover from the taste of defeat.

 
3. The team needs Nathan Mensah to score
 
Mensah has largely been missing in action on offense.
 
On Friday night, Mensah played 24 minutes and contributed seven rebounds and four points, shooting 2-of-5. His rebounds and defense are effective, but he’s missing the basket this season. Despite outperforming his career average of 6.9 points per game, he’s averaging 7.3 points per game this season compared to 8.1 points per game average in 2020-2021.
 
Ever since their contest with UNLV, the senior from Ghana averages 6 points per game but has turned the ball over four times, including three against New Mexico. In the same stretch of games, he’s 40.9% from the field, which is under his 53.9% career average. With dwindling scoring opportunities, he’s not putting the ball in the basket. 
 
Playing two contests in three days is a tall order for the 6-foot-10 forward, but taking one from Nevada requires him to score in the paint. As the Aztecs struggle to find offensive support for Matt Bradley, Mensah has to embrace the challenge and provide offense down low. Against Colorado State, the Aztecs as a team scored 22 points in the paint, and the easy buckets for the big man would surely help regain his confidence.
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Erwin Mendoza
Erwin Mendoza grew up a SoCal kid, but now is raising a family in the Pacific Northwest. Besides covering San Diego State basketball, he loves lamenting the lack of sports championships from San Diego — minor league teams don’t count— while drinking the local stout on nitro.
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