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Wolf Pack opponent preview: Nevada faces San Diego State in semifinals of Mountain West Tournament

NCAA Basketball: Mountain West Conference Tournament- Nevada vs Boise St. Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 5-seeded Nevada Wolf Pack take on the top-seeded San Diego State Aztecs in the semifinals of the Mountain West Tournament Friday at 6:30 p.m. PST on CBS Sports Network.

Nevada enters off an 89-82 upset over No. 4 Boise State in the quarterfinal round, potentially ending the Broncos’ chances at an NCAA Tournament bid. Its 89 points tied a season-high that was set Jan. 31 versus UNLV.

Thursday’s victory would’ve given Nevada its first Quad 1 win on the season, but Boise State fell eight spots out of the Top-50 (No. 43 to No. 51) in the NET rankings, thus giving the Wolf Pack their fifth Quad 2 victory — moving to 5-5 in Quad 1 or 2 games this season.

San Diego State escaped No. 8 Wyoming the game prior, 69-66 — its 12th straight victory. It has not lost since it dropped two in Logan, Utah, on Jan. 14-16. Friday marks its 14th consecutive Mountain West Tournament semifinal appearance.

The Aztecs have beaten Nevada in five straight meetings and in eight of their last nine. They are 3-0 all-time against the Wolf Pack in the Mountain West Tournament. Each of the three victories have come in the semifinals: In 2015-16 (67-55), 2017-18 (90-73) and the following year in 2018-19 (65-56). The latter two aforementioned losses occurred when the Pack were the No. 1 seed.

San Diego State narrowly beat the Nevada in their two meetings this year.

In the first game, the Aztecs finished the final 2:16 on a 7-0 run en route to a 65-60 victory. In the latter contest, Aztec guard Trey Pulliam knocked down a buzzer-beating floater in the 69-67 nail-biting victory.

Semifinal #1: No. 5 Nevada (16-9, 10-7) vs. No. 1 San Diego State (21-4, 14-3)

When: Friday, March 12 at 6:30 p.m. PST

TV: CBS Sports Network

Online: CBS Sports Network

Matchup history: SDSU leads 21-6

Last meeting: SDSU won 69-67 (Jan. 9, 2021)

Breakdown:

In its quarterfinal Thursday, Nevada was lifted by its dynamic backcourt duo of Grant Sherfield and Desmond Cambridge.

Cambridge, a third-team All-Mountain West selection, stole the show. He tallied a season-high 31 points on 11-of-19 shooting and 4-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc, adding two blocks and two steals in the winning effort. His 31 points were two shy of tying his career high that he set while he was at Brown.

Including the tournament, Cambridge is averaging 16.3 points on 41.6 percent shooting, 35.4 percent from 3-point range and 88.7 percent from the free throw line. He is also tallying 4.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists and a steal per game.

Sherfield, who won the conference’s Newcomer of the Year award and was a first-team All-Mountain West honoree, had 26 points on 8-of-14 shooting and a perfect 3-of-3 shooting from deep in the team’s quarterfinal performance.

On the season, the shifty 6-foot-2 guard posted 18.3 points with conference-bests in assists (6.1 apg) and steals (1.6 spg). He is knocking down 43.5 percent of his attempts, including 36.9 percent from beyond the arc and 86.2 percent from the charity stripe. His 119 made free throws ranks atop the Mountain West and his 86.2 free throw percentage ranks third.

In the two games against the Aztecs, Sherfield averaged 21.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 2.5 steals per game, shooting 41.9 percent from the floor, 33.3 percent from 3-point range and 92.3 percent from the charity stripe.

Warren Washington recorded his third double-double of the season, tallying 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting with 11 rebounds. The 7-footer is averaging 9.6 points and 5.8 rebounds in 21.5 minutes per game.

The trio of Cambridge, Sherfield and Washington accounted for 84.3 percent of Nevada’s scoring in Thursday’s victory.

San Diego State is led by Matt Mitchell, who earned the Mountain West Player of the Year award this week. Although he had just eight points on 1-of-4 shooting with four rebounds and three assists in Thursday’s win.

Mitchell is averaging 15.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game, shooting 43.0 percent from the floor, 37.0 percent from the 3-point line and 82.4 percent from the free-throw line.

The 6-foot-6 forward performed well against the Wolf Pack in their two meetings this year. Mitchell averaged 20.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and a steal per game, shooting 47.4 percent, 40.0 percent from deep and 95.2 percent on 21 free-throw attempts in those two games.

Jordan Schakel is second on the team in scoring at 14.4 points per contest. The sharpshooter is knocking down 47.5 percent of his shots and a blistering 46.8 percent of his 3-point attempts.

Schakel had 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting and 3-of-5 from deep in its quarterfinal win. He has made multiple threes in a conference-best 18 games this season — one more than Cambridge — and the Aztecs are 16-2 in such games. He is third on the team in rebounding (4.2 rpg) and steals (1.0 spg).

The Aztecs’ 12-game win streak coincides with guard Terrell Gomez becoming a full-time starter. Over that stretch, he is averaging 9.3 points and 2.4 assists on 43.1 percent shooting from deep. He had a season-high 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting in the team’s quarterfinal win Thursday.

Prediction:

  • Nevada: 70
  • San Diego State: 75

Over its 12-game win streak, San Diego State has been one of the best teams in the nation. It has produced 113.6 points per 100 possessions and allowed just 88.8 — good enough for a 25.6 NET rating (per Barttorvik). That’s elite-level play. Its offensive rating ranks No. 27 nationally since Jan. 22, when the streak began, while its defense ranks within the Top-10. Despite two of its last three wins coming five or fewer points, none of its previous nine did. Though some were ballooned by excellent performances versus wretched conference competition, those nine wins came by an average of 24.8 points. After two massive victories, Nevada is playing like it did pre-COVID. It will need another massive performance from its stout backcourt, plus excellent defensive play versus the potent Aztec offense in order to earn the victory — although the odds aren’t in their favor. Season record: 17-8

Projected Starting 5:

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)