The Runnin' Rebels have done what few others have managed to do lately. They beat San Diego State the last three times going into today's contest. Today the Aztecs were the better team, outlasting the Rebels 63-52.
This was an important game for both San Diego State and UNLV. The Aztecs were looking to remain atop the Mountain West and hold court at home. The Runnin' Rebels were hoping to build on their win at New Mexico and move up in the standings. The win means that 10th ranked San Diego State is now riding a 15-game win streak, the fourth-longest active win streak nationally.
In this matchup of similar strengths, the Aztecs were able to do three key things to secure the victory. They outrebounded a very good rebounding team by a margin of 10. They shot 77.8 percent from the free throw line. Their season average is closer to 65 percent. And they held the Rebels to 2-of-18 or just 11 percent from beyond the three point line.
This game featured two of the leading rebounders in the country. Roscoe Smith for UNLV leads the nation with 12.5 rebounds per game. Josh Davis for the Aztecs is fifth in the country with 11.3 rebounds per game. Davis bested Smith in rebounds 14-10 and in points 14-12. Overall the Aztecs outrebounded the Rebels by 10.
Smith did his best to keep the Rebels close in the first half, scoring nine of the first eleven points for UNLV. But after a 9-9 start, the Aztecs rolled off a 19-2 scoring run that led to a comfortable 14 point lead at the half. UNLV came out swinging in the second half and went on a 10-2 run that brought them within six points. Eventually the Rebels could only get as close as five points in the second half. Two back-to-back dunks by Skylar Spencer and Josh Davis ignited the crowd and helped keep the Rebels at bay.
Neither team shot the ball well from the field. The Rebels were held to just 30 percent. The Aztecs were 34 percent from the field. If you take out the Aztecs bench, they were 39 percent. If you take out Xavier Thames, the high scorer for the Aztecs, the rest of the starters shot 48 percent. Thames is normally an efficient shooter but was just 3-of-14. He did make 11-of-12 from the free throw line to finish with 18 points. The Rebels Deville Smith had a lot to do with Thames' inefficiency. He often denied him the ball and guarded him hard all game. Deville Smith finished with 13 points.
Bryce Dejean-Jones led the Rebels in scoring with 15 points but was 0-for-7 on three point attempts.
These teams know each other well and the coaches know each other. Aztecs assistant coach Justin Hutson spent the last two seasons with UNLV before rejoining the Aztecs coaching staff this season. UNLV assistant coach Todd Simon was previously the coach at Findlay Prep, where Winston Shepard played.
Next up the Aztecs travel to San Jose State on Wednesday, January 22 at 7 pm Pacific time.