San Diego State (10-4) has no time to lick their wounds after falling to Boise State. They face UNLV (11-8), who is playing the Aztecs in their third game in five days.
The Aztecs already defeated the Rebels earlier this month in a game without their starting point guards, Trey Pulliam and Lamont Butler. They won through their size, coaching, and tenacious defense in that game. If they execute on these factors again, they will be in a good position to finish off a season sweep the Rebels.
1. Short-term memory, get back into an offensive rhythm.
Coach Dutcher said it best in the press conference Saturday night, “I told the team after the game that you have to have an NBA mentality, a short memory,” Dutcher said. “You can reflect on the game tonight, but tomorrow we go back to work because we play on Monday.”
After not playing a game for two weeks, the Aztecs can use the excuse of rust for their 37 point output against the Broncos. But they must move past it.
Boise came into the game ranked 14th in defensive efficiency, not an ideal opponent to face after a layoff. They gave the Aztecs nothing easy and prevented them from finding any rhythm on offense.
Thankfully for the Aztecs, UNLV is a step down defensively, ranking 119. SDSU also has history on its side. They have won 18 of the last 20 matchups.
The Aztecs put up an offensive explosion of 79 points against undefeated Colorado State just two weeks ago. With the team fully healthy for the first time in almost two months, the offense must find its groove. A bounce-back win against the Rebels is a place to start.
2. Control Bryce Hamilton and Donovan Williams
The Rebels are certainly led by this duo. If one of them is shooting well, they can compete in games. If they both are in an offensive rhythm, they are dangerous.
Controlling them has been difficult all season. Over the last nine games, it has been even more challenging as the Rebels have relied on their stars even more. Both players account for most of the teams’ shot attempts. In the last nine games, Hamilton has been shooting an absurd 18.5 attempts a game. Williams has been more effective and efficient as of late as he took about 12 attempts and shot 58% over that stretch.
Hamilton is considered the better player as he entered the NBA Draft process last season but returned to school after not hiring an agent. He is averaging almost 20 points per game, but he has his moments of lacking efficiency. He’s shooting 43% from the field and 33% from beyond the arc, even though he takes about six threes a game. He ranks second in all D-1 for the highest percentage of shots taken for his team at 38.3%.
However, he is coming in on a hot streak, averaging 31 points in his last two games.
Williams, a transfer from Texas, has excelled on this Rebels team. In the last eight games, he has had games where he scored 29 and 32. He has the highest FG% on the team and shoots 44% from three. Despite his efficiency, his 23 minutes a game average is six fewer than his counterpart, Hamilton.
In the game earlier this season, the two players combined for half of the Rebels attempts. Williams scored 16 points on 5-for-13 shooting, and Bryce Hamilton scored 15 points on 6-for-19 shooting.
Both players will get their looks, but the key for the Aztecs will be to contest shots and not let them find their rhythm. Both players can catch fire, so preventing streaky shooting will be a big key.
Williams did miss the Rebels’ previous game against San Jose State. The reason is unknown, but he was a late scratch, but he sat with the coaches all game.
3. Dominate the glass and use size advantage
The Rebels are one of the shorter teams in the NCAA. They rank 274th in average height. For comparison, SDSU ranks 133rd. UNLV’s most frequent lineup features their biggest player, Royce Hamm, at 6’9, but the other four starters are all under 6’6. They only have two other players 6’7 or taller, and they usually get limited minutes. The Aztecs have five players over 6’7.
This height disadvantage hurts the Rebels on the glass. In all of the Rebels losses this season, they lost the rebound advantage.
In the first matchup, with Trey Pulliam not traveling with the team and Lamont Butler still sidelined with a wrist injury, the Aztecs were forced to go big. The Rebels were the perfect opponent to experiment against. UNLV had no answer for lineup combinations of 6’10 Nathan Mensah, 6’7 Keshad Johnson, 6’7 Chad Baker-Mazara, and 6’6 Aguek Arop.
The Aztecs ended up owning the glass and won the offensive rebound battle 19-14. Even though the Aztecs only shot 34% in that game, the extra possessions proved to be the difference.
Opposing teams may try to use speed to beat the tall red and black trees off the dribble. But SDSU proved in UNLV’s first matchup and against Colorado State that their big defenders can keep up with the smaller players to contest shots. Mensah was a particular menace in the first matchup as he blocked four shots and made every possession difficult for the Rebels.
Something to note in the latest Rebels game with Williams out they used bigger lineups more often than they normally do. UNLV coach Kevin Kruger said after the game, they may use the lineup more often for defensive purposes.