None of the current Aztecs players has enjoyed a win over the UNLV Runnin' Rebels at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, until tonight that is. No. 10 San Diego State (26-3, 15-2 MW) pulled away late in the second half to defeat UNLV (19-11, 10-7 MW) by nine points, 73-64.
This was the second road game for the Aztecs in which they have played on their opponents Senior Night. The Rebels dialed up the intensity just like Fresno State did on Saturday. They had over 16,000 fans in attendance and gave away 7,000 white t-shirts and 5,000 white placards.
This was a back and forth game in which both teams put it all on the line. But the Rebels got to the foul line much more frequently than the Aztecs did during the course of the game. Aztecs big men Josh Davis and Skylar Spencer both had four fouls, which limited their minutes down the stretch. Davis was held scoreless in 22 minutes of action but did grab seven rebounds.
Khem Birch was in beast mode for the Rebels, trying to make up for the inside presence of Roscoe Smith who was out with a concussion. Statistically he had a better game by halftime then he did in the entire game against the Aztecs in January. For the night, he had 16 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks. And he had just two personal fouls in 36 minutes on the court.
No one on the Rebels had more than three fouls. At one point in the second half, the fouls were 18 against the Aztecs and nine against the Rebels. It nearly evened up at the end, 18-15, but that includes the six fouls employed by the Rebels in the final 3:06 to try to put the brakes on the Aztecs.
Bench scoring was instrumental in the Aztecs victory. Dwayne Polee II scored nine of his 13 points in the first half. Matt Shrigley scored all of his 14 points in the second half. He shot 5-of-6 overall and was 4-of-5 on three pointers.
Xavier Thames struggled from the perimeter, shooting just 6-of-18 and missing all three of this three-point shot attempts. He did finish strong, scoring 11 of his 19 points inside the final 10 minutes. Winston Shepard came through at crunch time as well. He scored seven of his 13 points in the final 2:34 of the game, including a huge three pointer to increase the Aztecs two point lead to five points. Shepard's three pointer was only his sixth of the season.
The Aztecs streak of 115 wins when leading with 5:00 remaining was not at risk tonight, as the teams were tied 59-59. But the Aztecs proved once again that they are great closers, finishing out the game on a 14-5 run to secure the victory.
This sets up a winner-take-all rematch with New Mexico for the regular season title on Saturday. This time around, the Aztecs will have the homecourt advantage at Viejas Arena. UNLV can lock up third place with a win at Nevada on Saturday.