The San Diego State Aztecs’ perfect season was in serious jeopardy last Saturday night. Head coach Brian Dutcher then turned to a familiar face.
“Kawhi (Leonard) was near the bench at the start of the second half and I said, ‘Go get a uniform on, Kawhi, we might need you,’” the Aztecs coach said. “And he told me, ‘Hey, just win the game.’ And I said, “OK, sir, we’re going to win the game.”
The Aztecs, No. 1 in this week’s Nevada Appeal Mountain West men’s basketball rankings, trailed the Utah State Aggies 39-31 at halftime last Saturday night at home. Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard, who played for the Aztecs from 2009-11, was at Viejas Arena to have his No. 15 Aztecs’ jersey retired in front of 12,414 fans, his former San Diego State coach (Steve Fisher) and his current Clippers coach (Doc Rivers).
Leonard, who led the Toronto Raptors to the NBA title last June, did not put on his No. 15 jersey on Saturday. But he did stay around to watch the Aztecs rally for an 80-68 win over the Aggies to remain perfect (23-0, 12-0) on the season.
“Once we got rolling the momentum just snowballed,” Dutcher said. “The crowd was so dynamic and made it loud and very hard on Utah State.”
San Diego State’s Matt Mitchell, who attended Leonard’s King High in Riverside, Calif., for one year, scored 24 of his 28 points in the second half and had four 3-pointers. Malachi Flynn had 15 points, seven assists and three 3-pointers.
No. 3 Utah State, which beat Wyoming 68-45 earlier in the week, was 2-of-11 on threes in the second half at San Diego State after going 7-of-10 in the first half.
No. 2 Boise State beat San Jose State 99-71 and Nevada, 73-64, last week to improve to 15-8, 7-4. The Broncos have now won four games in a row and 9 of their last 11.
Derrick Alston had 27 points against San Jose State and 24 against Nevada. Justinian Jessup had 21 points with five threes against San Jose State and 17 and two threes against Nevada to tie Jimmer Fredette’s (BYU) Mountain West record of 296 career 3-pointers.
Jessup, who has more than a month to break Fredette’s record, was more impressed with the Broncos’ win over Nevada. Nevada whipped Boise State in Reno on Jan. 4, 83-66. The Wolf Pack had won seven games in a row against Boise State and had not lost to the Broncos since March 2, 2016 (76-57).
“I’ve never beaten them in my career so it was definitely a little extra motivation,” said Jessup, who joined Boise State in the 2016-17 season.
No. 5 Nevada (13-10, 6-5) also lost at Colorado State 92-91 last week and has now lost five of its last eight games. The Wolf Pack, which plays Air Force (Tuesday) and San Jose State (Saturday) this week at home, has lost its last seven games away from Lawlor Events Center.
The Pack was without senior guard Jazz Johnson at Boise State. Johnson, who missed the game with a shoulder injury, scored 34 against Boise State on Jan. 4 at Lawlor Events Center. Also missing at Boise State for the Wolf Pack was an offensive contribution from Nisre Zouzoua and K.J. Hymes. The two combined for just five points at Boise State after combining for 30 at Colorado State.
Nevada’s Jalen Harris scored 31 points against Colorado State and 30 against Boise State and now leads the Mountain West in scoring at 20.0 points a game. Boise’s Alston is second at 19.7.
The two 30-point efforts also made Harris the first Wolf Pack player since Nick Fazekas (2005-06) with four 30-point games in a season. Marqueze Coleman (2015-16) and Malik Story (2012-13) each had three 30-point games in a season in recent years. Galena High graduate Luke Babbitt had just one 30-point game in 2009-10 but also had 10 other games that season with 26-29 points.
No. 4 Colorado State (16-8, 7-4) also beat UNLV last week to sweep the two Nevada schools in a span of just four days. The Rams have now won nine of their last 11 games. Isaiah Stevens beat the Wolf Pack with a last-second shot and had 21 points on five threes against UNLV. Nico Carvacho had 16 points in each game for the Rams.
Colorado State shot 62 percent (32-of-52) against UNLV, making 11-of-17 threes.
“Our focus got away from us,” UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “We knew we had to guard the 3-point line and we knew we had to guard them in transition. But once they got going we couldn’t turn them off.”
No. 6 UNLV fell to 11-12, 6-4 and has now lost three games in a row. No. 7 Fresno State (8-14, 3-7) beat both Air Force (79-68) and New Mexico (82-77) last week after losing seven of nine. New Williams had 25 points and six threes against Air Force but scored just nine against New Mexico and was 1-of-9 on threes.
No. 8 New Mexico continued to fall, losing to Fresno State (82-77) and San Diego State (85-57). The Lobos, decimated by injuries and suspensions this year, have lost three games in a row and five of six.
No. 9 Air Force (9-13, 3-7) fell to Fresno State (79-68) last week in front of a home crowd of just 1,535 and has now lost four in a row.
No. 10 Wyoming (6-17, 1-10) snapped its eight-game losing streak by beating No. 11 San Jose State, 71-66 on Saturday for its first conference win of the year. Hunter Maldonado had 19 points, seven assists and seven rebounds for Wyoming. The Cowboys, though, were just 5-of-26 on threes in the win over San Jose State. Wyoming also shot just 15-of-50 (30 percent) in a 68-45 loss to Utah State last Tuesday.
San Jose State (7-16, 3-8) has lost six of its last eight games. Seneca Knight scored 21 points against Wyoming and 16 in a 99-71 loss to Boise State on Wednesday. The loss at home to Wyoming was witnessed by just 1,427 fans.
The Nevada Appeal Mountain West men’s basketball rankings for the week of Feb. 3-9:
1. SAN DIEGO STATE (23-0, 12-0). This week: at Air Force (Saturday).
2. BOISE STATE (15-8, 7-4). This week: at Wyoming (Tuesday); at Utah State (Saturday).
3. UTAH STATE (17-7, 6-5). This week: vs. UNLV (Wednesday); vs. Boise State (Saturday).
4. COLORADO STATE (16-8, 7-4). This week: at Fresno State (Tuesday).
5. NEVADA (13-10, 6-5). This week: vs. Air Force (Tuesday); vs. San Jose State (Saturday).
6. UNLV (11-12, 6-4). This week: at Utah State (Wednesday); vs. Fresno State (Saturday).
7. FRESNO STATE (8-14, 4-7). This week: vs. Colorado State (Tuesday); at UNLV (Saturday).
8. NEW MEXICO (16-8, 5-6). This week: vs. Wyoming (Saturday).
9. AIR FORCE (9-13, 3-7). This week: at Nevada (Tuesday); vs. San Diego State (Saturday).
10. WYOMING (6-17, 1-10). This week: vs. Boise State (Tuesday); at New Mexico (Saturday).
11. SAN JOSE STATE (7-16, 3-8). This week: at Nevada (Saturday).
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