Appearing in its 14th straight Mountain West Tournament semifinal, the top-seeded San Diego State Aztecs downed the No. 5 Nevada Wolf Pack 77-70 Friday evening in Las Vegas, Nev.
Friday marks the fourth time in the last six seasons where the Aztecs have ousted Nevada from the Mountain West Tournament semifinals. Since the both have been a part of the conference, San Diego State has owned the Wolf Pack — boasting a lopsided 17-3 record (.850) in their 20 meetings.
Friday’s victory extends the Aztecs’ winning streak to 13. They will appear in to their fourth-straight Mountain West title game on Saturday.
Nevada departs Las Vegas with a 16-10 record and 5-6 in Quad 1 or 2 contests. San Diego State improves to 22-4.
The Wolf Pack netted 35.8 percent of their shots, including 23.8 percent from 3-point range and 79.4 percent of their 34 free throw attempts.
After their marvelous quarterfinal performance, Nevada’s star backcourt of Grant Sherfield and Desmond Cambridge combined to shoot just 33.3 percent on the evening, including 4-of-15 from deep.
Sherfield tallied a team-high 25 points on 6-of-15 shooting, while Cambridge totaled 17 points on 4-of-15 shooting. Warren Washington had 19 points — two shy of tying his season high — on 6-of-8 shooting with seven rebounds.
San Diego State shot 45.3 percent from the floor, 42.9 percent from outside and 62.5 percent of its 32 free throw attempts.
Matt Mitchell recorded a team-high 24 points — 19 in the second half — on 6-of-15 shooting and 3-of-7 from beyond the arc. It was his fifth 20-point performance of the season and his third against Nevada.
Jordan Schakel had 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including 3-of-5 from deep. The sharpshooter has tallied multiple 3-pointers in a conference-best 19 games — the team success has translated, as the Aztecs are 17-2 in those games.
Trey Pulliam recorded his second straight game in double figures for the first time in his career, tallying 13 points on 6-of-12 shooting. Lamont Butler added 10 points on 2-of-4 shooting.
Despite the loss, the Wolf Pack out-rebounded the Aztecs 37-36. Both teams had 26 points in the paint, but Nevada had 14 turnovers compared to SDSU’s nine.
For the fifth consecutive game, Nevada forward Zane Meeks did not suit up due to knee tendinitis.
A 14-2 run — including four 3-pointers — Aztecs ahead 17-8 in the first 7:20 of the contest.
Nevada struggled on both ends in the first eight minutes. It had just four field goal attempts and nine turnovers in that span; SDSU more than tripled that field goal attempt figure with 13 (six makes) and committed just one turnover. Those nine Pack turnovers turned into 10 early Aztec points.
The Wolf Pack responded with a 10-3 run — making it 20-18. Washington’s alley-oop dunk from Cambridge tied the game at 30 with 3:17 to go in the half. Mitchell’s first basket of the evening (on his sixth attempt) widened it to 37-32, prompting a Wolf Pack timeout.
That would be the score heading into halftime. Nevada shot 33.3 percent and 25 percent from 3-point range. San Diego State netted 38.7 percent of his shots and 36.4 percent from deep.
There were 27 combined fouls in the first half, leading to 34 combined free throw attempts — Nevada went 16-for-19 (84.2 percent) from the charity stripe, while San Diego State went 9-for-15 (60 percent).
The Aztecs began the second half on an 8-2 run. Back-to-back baskets from Sherfield — his first two field goal makes of the game — followed by a goaltending call on SDSU trimmed the deficit to 48-42 with 14:51 remaining.
Mitchell’s 3-pointer widened it to 53-42. Nevada cut it to 64-58 with 6:42 to go. Two free throws from Mitchell widened it to 73-63 with 3:07 left. Nevada trimmed it to 73-67 with just over a minute to go, but could not break pass the six-point threshold to earn the comeback victory despite San Diego State not recording a made field goal in the final 3:45.
San Diego State advances to the Mountain West Championship for the fourth consecutive season. It will face the winner of No. 3 Colorado State and No. 2 Utah State (which at the time of this publishing, has not started).
Nevada’s season is likely over, barring an NIT Tournament bid — which was cut in half from 32 teams (in a normal year) to 16 this year. The Wolf Pack are unlikely accepting a CBI Tournament bid, which they won in 2015-16. Here’s a quote from Nevada head coach Steve Alford earlier in the week regarding the situation, via Chris Murray of Nevada Sports Net.
“The NCAA and NIT, that makes sense. But paying to go somewhere with no fans and those types of things, just financially, we’re trying to do everything we can to help our university in this COVID year. President (Brian) Sandoval has been absolutely outstanding trying to help all of our athletic teams kind of go through the weeds because financially it’s been a really tough year with no fans for football, no fans for basketball. That makes it very hard on everybody, and to know go to a postseason tournament where you have to pay out of pocket and then pay out of pocket to travel and stay, that’s a little different than a normal CBI year where you’re playing home games and getting fans. We’d have to look at it, but my guess right now is I’d lean toward no.”