Aztecs look to take rubber match against Nevada in Mountain West semifinals


Jocelyn Moran

Senior guard Jeremy Hemsley defends UNLV senior guard Noah Robotham during San Diego State’s men’s basketball game against UNLV on March 14.

by Aaron Tolentino, Assistant Sports Editor

San Diego State men’s basketball watched confetti fall after Nevada used a 81-63 victory to clinch the 2019 Mountain West regular-season title last Saturday.

Five days later the two teams will meet again in the state of Nevada, but this time 445 miles south at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas.

And this time the Aztecs, presumably, would prefer the game not end in another 28-point loss but instead a repeat of the 65-57 victory on Feb. 20.

Head coach Brian Dutcher said despite the deficit, the Aztecs were within striking distance for most of the game.

“They hit a couple more threes and got rolling,” Dutcher said. “That was it. I thought we were in the game even though it didn’t feel like it to a lot of people that watched it.

In SDSU’s last two games, only a few players were able to get into any groove offensively early.

Through the first 13 minutes at Nevada, three players scored for the Aztecs.

Subsequently, it was the Devin Watson and Jalen McDaniels show for an entire half against UNLV.

The senior guard and the sophomore forward combined to score 25 of the Aztecs’ 26 before intermission.

Dutcher said he worries about only two players carrying the entire load offensively.

“At halftime, I was concerned that anybody other than the name McDaniels or Watson was going to score a point,” Dutcher said after SDSU’s 63-55 victory over the Runnin’ Rebels. “They scored every point but one for us in the first half.”

The Aztecs will attempt to muster points from their entire rotation despite a plethora of nagging injuries.

At this time of year, lots of bodies are banged up and hurt.

Specifically, Watson and freshman forward Nathan Mensah are both nursing back injuries and missed practice time this week.

The good news for SDSU is the added recovery time.

Dutcher said the earlier start time – the Aztecs played at  2:30 p.m.– served as a advantage for SDSU.

“I like the chances of getting treatment, having recovery time leading into tomorrow’s game,” Dutcher said.

SDSU will have almost 28 hours in between the UNLV and Nevada games.

For the Aztecs, hopefully those 28 hours will give time for more fans to travel and show up at the Thomas and Mack Center.

The thought of even a larger crowd for tomorrow’s rubber match against Nevada puts a smile on Dutcher’s face.

“When I think about what it’s going to be like tomorrow, I just smile and shake my head,” Dutcher said. “I’ve been coming here for maybe 17 of the 20 years of this event, and the Aztec fans travel and they travel well.”