LAS VEGAS -- Was this going to be the kind of game that UNLV and SDSU fans expected from their teams? Whenever the Rebels and Aztecs come together, it's another moment of renewed rivalry. On Saturday night, it didn't seem like too much of a rivalry between the conference foes as UNLV came out flat in the second half against an ever aggressive, defensive minded Aztecs squad. UNLV fell to the Aztecs, 67-52.
The Aztecs are the top defensive team in the conference, and to top them, the Rebels would need to come out aggressively to keep pace with SDSU's grind effort. The Rebels seemed out of sorts on the offensive end as the game wore on.
The one player for UNLV who exemplifies the kind of grit that SDSU brought in this match-up is Ben Carter. But, Carter went down with a knee injury in the middle of the first half. Carter was so badly injured that, under assistance, it took him nearly one minute to walk off the floor.
Despite the loss of front man Carter, the Rebels kept things close in the first half. A last minute tip in by SDSU put the game at 30-27 (Aztecs) at half. Talented freshmen guard Jeremy Hemsley ended the first half with six points. Rebels guard Patrick McCaw finished the first half with 8.
The second half was far different for both teams. After Ike Nwamu brought the game within one point with an emphatic dunk early in the second half, the Rebels' offense went down hill and kept sliding.
Ike Nwamu gets loose in the open court and finishes strong pic.twitter.com/4HUVkZjf6O— Mike Grimala (@MikeGrimala) January 31, 2016
With under four minutes to play, SDSU went up by 10 and hundreds of Rebel fans exited the Thomas and Mack. Then, with under two minutes to play, as SDSU went up by as many as 18, more Rebel fans left the arena (noticeably frustrated and even surprised by the points margin between the teams who were meant to have another exciting, close, start-to-finish match).
The primary question becomes: Was UNLV's loss due to poor offensive execution or stellar defense played by SDSU? UNLV went 5-23 from 3-point territory, and shot 3 for 9 from the free throw line (while SDSU made 19 of 27 attempts from the FT). The Aztecs dominated rebounds by a 44 to 27 margin.
In the post game presser, Interim Coach Todd Simon stated on the lack of offensive efficiency that his team "needed to play earlier in the clock" and that they "didn't quite bounce back" (when Ben Carter went down)
Stephen Zimmerman, who had 14 points, noted about SDSU that they were a "crazy, aggressive team." Indeed, it was the Aztecs suffocating defense and ability to snag defensive rebounds that burned the Rebels. Simon added that the Aztecs were "forcing you (UNLV) into shots and were great at contesting."
One thing is certain, SDSU left the Thomas and Mack Saturday night with an unblemished conference record, something that even some of the best basketball analysts never would have predicted after such a lackluster non-conference start to the season. And UNLV has some soul searching to do now; despite the recent surge of offensive prowess in previous games, tonight's performance fell flat.
In reference to the Aztecs victory, UNLV's Coach Simon may have said it best: "We've learned where the bar is at."
Rebels fall to 4-5 in conference play. SDSU goes to 9-0 in conference.