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Wolf Pack basketball opponent preview: Nevada begins two-game set with SDSU

Nevada Athletics Department

The Nevada Wolf Pack begin its two-game series against the San Diego State Aztecs inside Viejas Arena in San Diego, Calif., on Thursday. Tip off will be at 7 p.m. PST on CBS Sports Network.

The last time the two teams met was in the 2019-20 regular season finale, where the then-No. 5 San Diego State earned an 83-76 victory in Lawlor Events Center. It capped off SDSU’s remarkable 28-1 regular season record, the best in program history.

San Diego split its last four games after taking the first five, while the Pack have been victors in four of their last five games. The Pack completed a two-game sweep over the New Mexico Lobos in Lubbock, Texas last weekend.

Nevada (8-3, 3-1) vs. San Diego State (7-2, 1-1)

When: Thursday Jan. 7 at 7 p.m. PST

Where: Viejas Arena in San Diego, Calif.

TV: CBS Sports Network

Online: CBS Sports

Matchup history: San Diego State leads 19-6

Last meeting: SDSU won 83-76 (Feb. 29, 2020)

Breakdown:

After its mind-numbing collapse Sunday, blowing a 26-point lead (the largest in Mountain West history) to lose 70-67, the Aztecs earned a 78-65 victory Tuesday against Colorado State. It shot 67.9 percent in the first half of that contest — tallying 50 points — its best shooting outing since 2013.

Jordan Schakel led the team in scoring off the bench, tallying 28 points with eight 3-pointers and hauled in nine boards — both career-highs. Schakel was the third Aztec since the 1996-97 season to tally a 28 point-9 rebound-3 assist-2 steal stat line.

In total, it is averaging 73.2 points — fourth-most in the Mountain West — while surrendering a conference-best 60.1 points per contest, ranking in the Top-20 nationally. The Aztecs rank as the No. 43 team in offensive efficiency and No. 22 in defensive efficiency, per KenPom.

The Aztecs are led by senior forward Matt Mitchell. Mitchell, a preseason All-Mountain West honoree, is averaging a team-best 14.9 points per game — a mark tied with New Mexico’s Makuach Maluach for the ninth-best in the Mountain West. Mitchell is shooting 44.7 percent from the floor and 36.8 percent from 3-point range.

The 6-foot-6 forward leads the team in steals (1.3 spg), routinely stonewalling the opposing team’s best player with his muscular frame. He is second on the team in rebounding (4.3 rpg) with dishing out the third-most assists (2.0 apg).

Schakel is SDSU’s only other double-digit scorer at 14.6 points per game. His 28-point outing was the only game on the year where the 6-foot-6 sharpshooter has come off the bench. He is shooting 45.9 percent from beyond the arc, nailing a conference-best 3.1 threes per game.

Schakel’s 45.9 3-point percentage leads the conference — over four percentage points higher than the second-best qualifier (Caleb Grill, UNLV - 41.5). He has hit 28 shots from outside in the team’s first nine games, two behind Nevada’s Desmond Cambridge for the most in the conference. Schakel has totaled six games with multiple 3-point baskets on the year — one behind teammate Terrell Gomez and Nevada’s Desmond Cambridge for the most in the Mountain West.

Gomez, a frisky 5-foot-9 guard and a sixth man of the year candidate, is averaging 9.6 points and 2.4 assists in 23.1 minutes per game. The former Cal State Northridge transfer is second on SDSU in 3-pointers made per game (2.2).

Nevada enters off a two-game sweep against New Mexico, including a 84-74 victory Saturday. The series was played in Lubbock, Texas, different from “the Pit” in Albuquerque, N.M. (due to COVID-19 protocols in N.M.).

The Pack netted a season-high 13 shots from the outside at a 52 percent clip — its most since it hit 13 on the road against New Mexico last season. On Saturday, Grant Sherfield tallied a team-high 28 points — averaging 24.0 points in the series — with five 3-pointers in the winning effort.

Sherfield leads the team in scoring at 17.2 points per game, the sixth-most in the Mountain West. He is also third in the conference in assists (5.4 apg), sixth in steals (1.6 spg), and the fifth-most points produced per game (5.5).

The former Wichita State transfer is shooting 43.4 percent from the floor and 43.2 percent from deep — both figures ranking in the top-10 in the conference. Sherfield is also atop the Mountain West in total free throw makes (52), netting 83.9 percent of his attempts from the stripe.

Cambridge is second on the team in scoring at 15.4 points per game, shooting 38.6 percent from the floor and 32.3 percent from beyond the arc. Cambridge has recorded four 20-point performances in the last six games — averaging 20.3 points on 41.2 percent shooting (40.0 3P%) in that span. He is second on the team in assists (2.5 apg) and steals (1.0 spg) and fourth in rebounding (4.1 rpg).

Zane Meeks is Nevada’s only other double digit scorer at 10.1 points per game. The 6-foot-10 forward is grabbing a team-best 6.6 rebounds and is netting 46.8 percent from the floor and 37.5 from deep.

Despite the slow start, 7-footer Warren Washington has been a capable inside presence — averaging 8.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game through the team’s first 11 games. In the team’s last eight games, Washington has tallied 10.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per contest on 72.7 percent shooting, totaling double figure scoring in six of those games.

Prediction:

  • Nevada: 66
  • San Diego State: 75

This will be easily Nevada’s toughest contest to date. According to KenPom’s rankings, San Diego State ranks No. 28; it has just faced one opponent inside the top-100 (San Francisco - No. 78) and three more inside the Top-150 (Grand Canyon - No. 144, Pacific - No. 139, Nebraska - No. 116). Nevada is 2-2 in such games, with losses to Grand Canyon (by 10) and San Francisco (by 25 - at home!). Nevada will have to play perfect two-way basketball to defeat the Aztecs, which would give them home losses in three of their last four games. To start, an ugly trend in the three Pack losses is defending the 3-point line — in its three losses, teams have combined to shoot 41.7 percent from deep; in wins, opponents are shooting 28.4 percent from outside. Among other factors, the Pack must play stout defense on the perimeter coupled with limiting damage on the interior from Mensah and Mitchell. San Diego State is arguably the conference’s best defense and averages a league-best 8.8 steals per game. Nevada, a team with just two scholarship juniors, will have to be mistake-free in the always-tough Viejas Arena (even with no fans allowed in attendance). Season record: 8-3

Projected Starters:

No. 5 Nevada Wolf Pack (16-9, 10-7)

Position Number Name Class Height PPG RPG APG FG% 3P%
Position Number Name Class Height PPG RPG APG FG% 3P%
G 25 Grant Sherfield Soph. 6-2 18.3 3.7 6.1 43.5 36.9
G 4 Desmond Cambridge Jr. 6-4 16.3 4.4 2.4 41.6 35.4
G 14 Tre Coleman Fr. 6-7 5.7 3.0 1.8 42.5 37.1
F 20 Daniel Foster Fr. 6-6 4.3 2.6 1.5 48.6 45.5
F 5 Warren Washington Soph. 7-0 9.6 5.8 0.8 57.4 ------ (0-1)

No. 1 San Diego State (21-4, 14-3)

Position Number Name Class Height PPG RPG APG FG% 3P%
Position Number Name Class Height PPG RPG APG FG% 3P%
G 3 Terrell Gomez Sr. 6-8 8.8 1.5 2.4 43.9 43.2
G 4 Trey Pulliam Sr. 6-3 6.9 3.0 3.4 39.7 24.4
G 20 Jordan Schakel Sr. 6-6 14.4 4.2 1.0 47.5 46.8
F 11 Matt Mitchell Sr. 6-6 15.0 5.4 2.0 44.3 37.0
F 31 Nathan Mensah Jr. 6-10 8.5 6.2 0.6 57.7 0.0 (0-for-3)

Additional Links:

Nevada Game Notes: https://bit.ly/3oq8D6W

San Diego State Game Notes: https://bit.ly/3oqm3Qi

Live Stats: http://stats.statbroadcast.com/broadcast/?id=321441