Aztecs stay undefeated at 19-0 behind Wetzell’s double-double

Senior+forward+Yanni+Wetzell+attempts+to+get+to+the+basket+in+the+Aztecs%27+68-55+win+over+Nevada+on+Jan.+18+at+Viejas+Arena.

Kareem Jones

Senior forward Yanni Wetzell attempts to get to the basket in the Aztecs' 68-55 win over Nevada on Jan. 18 at Viejas Arena.

by Aaron Tolentino, Sports Editor

After No. 4 Auburn lost its first game of the season against Alabama Wednesday, No. 7 San Diego State was on watch to see whether or not they could keep that title as the nation’s lone undefeated team.

The Aztecs (19-0, 8-0 Mountain West Conference) did that by defeating Nevada (11-8, 4-3 MWC) 68-55 on Saturday night in front of another sold-out Viejas Arena crowd.

With No. 3 Duke and No. 5 Butler also suffering losses this week, expect the Aztecs to climb up to at least the top five in next Monday’s AP Top 25 Poll.

Here are three observations in SDSU’s win.

1. Wetzell’s Pretzels goes for a double-double

Senior forward Yanni Wetzell scored double digits in his fifth straight game – putting up 17 points and a career-high 16 rebounds (a new career-high and the most by an Aztec since 2013). That’s his second double-double of the season.

Wetzell showed off his inside-out game. While he was able to score inside by banging bodies down low, Wetzell also went 2-for-2 from beyond the arc to lead the team in scoring for the third time this season.

Senior forward Yanni Wetzell (right) attempts a shot over Nevada sophomore forward Robby Robinson.

As with each and every game, these types of performances are becoming less of a surprise and more routine.

“I think I’m starting to fill in that five-man role a little bit since Nate’s gone,” Wetzell said. “I’m just trying to adapt to it every day, trying to get better at it. A lot of credit goes to my guards finding me in right positions.”

Last season at Vanderbilt, Wetzell averaged 5.9 points and 3.8 rebounds, which didn’t seem to project to what Wetzell is doing now.

At SDSU, the 6-foot-10 New Zealand native has shown his ability to be versatile by averaging 12.2 and 6.5 rebounds.

“Yanni came here because he wanted an opportunity to play on a good team,” Dutcher said of Wetzell’s decision to transfer to the Mesa. “He knew how to play, how to post, how to move. And so just, we’re fortunate to put them in positions where we can have some success.”

2. 17-2 second-half run gives the Aztecs the cushion they needed to hold on for victory

The score was tied at 40 with 16:10 left.

Then came a 17-2 run from the Aztecs.

The energy picked up not only from the team but also the crowd. The sold-out crowd only needed a couple of consecutive baskets and stops to reach its loudest cheers of the night.

The Aztecs seemed to have fed off that energy, especially defensively.

Junior guard Trey Pulliam guards the perimeter.

“I mean we went with our defense, so we get stops and then it takes the pressure off the offense when you get stops,” Dutcher said. “Everything was keyed by our defense and our rebounding.”

SDSU scored 17 points compared to Nevada’s two in a span of about 8 minutes.

The Aztecs basically held Nevada scoreless during an 8-minute stretch.

The only “score” was an own basket allowed on an attempted rebound by Wetzell. (So technically, Wetzell should have had 19 points, as Dutcher joked after the game.)

Nevada shot 14% for the second half.

Since the Aztecs put up a repeat of its first half total of 33 points in the second half, it was the defense that propelled them to turn it around.

A key defensive adjustment made at the half was to jump on Nevada’s ball screens. With last year’s team being so young, Dutcher likely would not have made that kind of in-game adjustment.

But this year’s Aztecs are not a young team.

“Having a veteran group that is able to do something in a walkthrough or coaches tell us what they want, we can just adjust on the fly like that,” junior guard Jordan Schakel said of the defensive adjustments after halftime.

The defensive adjustments seemed to work as the Aztecs allowed 12 Wolf Pack points after halftime.

3. Aztecs trail at halftime for the second time this season

The last (and only other) time SDSU trailed at the half this season was against Iowa back in November when the team trailed by nine at intermission.

After a first half deficit as large as 16, the Aztecs blitzed Iowa to outscore the Hawkeyes 52-31 in the second half.

This time, the Aztecs outscored its opponent 35-20.

There was a bit of a weird feeling inside the locker room. The team isn’t used to facing a deficit at halftime.

“I’m not gonna lie, it was a little different at halftime because that was the second time we faced being down at halftime in 18 games,” Wetzell said. “The energy was a little different, but luckily we’re an older group, so we regathered and regrouped and came out aggressive in the second half.”

Coming into Saturday, Dutcher said Nevada was the second-best shooting team in the Mountain West.

Sophomore forward Aguek Arop tries to go up to the rim.

The Wolf Pack proved in the first half they can shoot the ball by outshooting the Aztecs 53% from 3-point range to SDSU’s 35%. Overall, Nevada shot 47% from the field compared to the home team’s 36%.

The problem Saturday was the Aztecs were cold and Nevada wasn’t, resulting in a 35-33 SDSU halftime deficit.

Despite the shooting differences, SDSU saw themselves only trail by two because of 10 Wolf Pack turnovers.

Junior forward Malachi Flynn, who played all 20 first half minutes, struggled from the field by shooting 2-for-8.

Wetzell was the only Aztec to score double-digits. He scored 10 points on 4-for-7 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds in 18 minutes.

The Aztecs now remain the last undefeated team in the country at 19-0 and one win away from tying its best start in program history.

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