San Diego State forward Keshad Johnson, right, and forward Matt Mitchell (11) celebrate a point during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Boise State Saturday, Feb 27, 2021, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
The San Diego State Aztecs are clearly the team to beat in the Mountain West.
The Aztecs, the No. 1 team in this week’s Nevada Appeal Mountain West men’s basketball rankings, made a loud statement last week by beating No. 2 Boise State twice, 78-66 and 62-58. San Diego State has now won 10 games in a row with one game remaining in the regular season (at UNLV on Wednesday) before the Mountain West tournament in Las Vegas March 10-13.
“I take great comfort in having five seniors in the starting lineup and they make a coach look good,” Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher said last week. “This team has a lot of resolve and grit.”
The Aztecs have not lost since falling twice at Utah State on Jan. 14, 16. The loss on Jan. 16 is also the last time the Aztecs have even trailed in the second half of a game.
“It doesn’t matter who we are playing or where,” said Dutcher, whose Aztecs are now 19-4 overall and 13-3 in league play. “We are trying to play to our standard.”
Matt Mitchell scored 24 points with nine rebounds despite missing all five of his 3-point shots in the Aztecs’ 78-66 win over Boise State on Feb. 25. The difference in the game was free throw shooting as San Diego State was 18-of-21 from the line compared to Boise State’s 6-of-10.
Jordan Schakel led the Aztecs with 17 points two nights later on Feb. 27 in a 62-58 win over Boise. Boise State missed 21-of-26 3-pointers. The game was close throughout though Boise’s only lead was 2-0.
The game closed the Aztecs’ home schedule this year. San Diego State won its last nine home games to finish 13-2 at home.
“To be honest, it was not that emotional without people in the stands,” said Schakel of the Aztecs’ Senior Night game. “The fans who pour it all onto the court were not there so it was not really that emotional for me.”
Boise State (18-6, 14-5) got 29 points from Derrick Alston in the 78-66 loss. Marcus Shaver and Devonaire Doutrive, though, led Boise with just 13 points each two nights later in the 62-58 loss.
“That was a tough, gritty game that turned into more of a rock fight than we wanted,” said Boise State coach Leon Rice of the four-point loss.
No. 3 Colorado State, which closes the Nevada Wolf Pack’s regular season on Friday night at Lawlor Events Center, played just one game last week. The Rams whipped No. 10 Air Force 72-49 as Isaiah Stevens and Adam Thistlewood combined to go 9-of-13 on threes. The rest of the Rams’ roster was 0-of-9 on threes.
Utah State climbed to No. 4 with a pair of victories over No. 5 Nevada, 75-72 on Friday and 87-66 on Sunday.
The Aggies dominated the two games for the most part, although Nevada made a late run in the first game to make the game close. Utah State led by 10 with two minutes to play on Friday and the rematch on Saturday was never close.
“That was a tough one,” Wolf Pack coach Steve Alford said after the 21-point loss, the third largest defeat in his two-year Nevada career as head coach. “I never thought we really got going. We got absolutely destroyed on the glass and in transition.”
Utah State out-rebounded Nevada 85-52 in the two games combined.
Neemias Queta dominated the Wolf Pack in the two games. The 7-foot center had 42 points and 30 rebounds in the two games in addition to eight assists, four blocks and two steals.
No. 6 UNLV split two games at home with No. 7 Fresno State. Fresno State won the first game 67-64 behind 19 points from Isaiah Hill and 18 from Deon Stroud. The Rebels squeezed out a 68-67 win in the second game of the series behind 18 points from Caleb Grill. UNLV won depite not scoring in the final two minutes.
Bryce Hamilton had 27 points in the first game and 13 in the second game for UNLV.
UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger, though, was happy how his Rebels closed out the victory. “I felt like down the stretch, even though we still weren’t perfect, it was as together as we’ve been as a team,” he said.
No. 11 New Mexico split a pair of games with Air Force, winning 73-65 on Feb. 22 and falling 62-55 two days later. Makuach Maluach had 25 points and seven rebounds in the victory for the Lobos and 20 points and five boards in the loss.
A.J. Walker had 42 points in the two games combined for Air Force.
New Mexico, though, announced later in the week that it has fired head coach Paul Weir. Weir, now in his fourth season as Lobos head coach, will coach the team through the end of the season.
Weir’s Lobos are just 6-14 overall this season and 2-14 in the Mountain West and have had to play all of their games outside the state of New Mexico because of COVID-19 precautions. Weir, a former assistant coach at Iowa under head coach Steve Alford, is 58-61 as Lobos coach.
The end of Weir’s career at New Mexico likely signifies the end of a 14-year run of the Alford coaching tree at New Mexico. Alford coached New Mexico from 2007-08 through 2012-13. He was replaced by his assistant Craig Neal. Neal, now a Wolf Pack assistant under Alford (he also was an assistant at Iowa with Weir under Alford), coached New Mexico from 2013-14 through 2016-18 before being replaced by Weir.
The Nevada Appeal’s Mountain West men’s basketball rankings . . .
1. SAN DIEGO STATE (19-4, 13-3): Last week: San Diego State 78, Boise State 66 (Feb. 25), San Diego State 62, Boise State 58 (Feb. 27). This week: San Diego State at UNLV (March 3).
2. BOISE STATE (18-6, 14-5): Last week: San Diego State 78, Boise State 66 (Feb. 25), San Diego State 62, Boise State 58 (Feb. 27). This week: Fresno State at Boise State (March 2).
3. COLORADO STATE (15-4, 12-3): Last week: Colorado State 72, Air Force 49 (Feb. 27). This week: Air Force at Colorado State (March 1), New Mexico at Colorado State (March 3), Colorado State at Nevada (March 5).
4. UTAH STATE (16-7, 13-4): Last week: Utah State 75, Nevada 72 (Feb. 26), Utah State 87, Nevada 66 (Feb. 28). This week: Wyoming at Utah State (March 4), Utah State at Fresno State (March 6).
5. NEVADA (14-9, 9-7): Last week: Utah State 75, Nevada 72 (Feb. 26), Utah State 87, Nevada 66 (Feb. 28). This week: Colorado State at Nevada (March 5).
6. UNLV (11-12, 8-8): Last week: Fresno State 67, UNLV 64 (Feb. 24), UNLV 68, Fresno State 67 (Feb. 26). This week: San Diego State at UNLV (March 3), UNLV at Wyoming (March 6).
7. FRESNO STATE (10-10, 8-10): Last week: Fresno State 67, UNLV 64 (Feb. 24), UNLV 68, Fresno State 67 (Feb. 26). This week: Fresno State at Boise State (March 2), Utah State at Fresno State (March 6).
8. WYOMING (12-9, 6-8): Last week: Idle. This week: Wyoming at Utah State (March 4), UNLV at Wyoming (March 6).
9. SAN JOSE STATE (5-15, 3-13): Last week: Idle. This week: Idle.
10. AIR FORCE (5-18, 3-16): Last week: New Mexico 73, Air Force 65 (Feb. 22), Air Force 62, New Mexico 55 (Feb. 24), Colorado State 72, Air Force 49 (Feb. 27). This week: Air Force at Colorado State (March 1).
11. NEW MEXICO (6-14, 2-14): Last week: New Mexico 73, Air Force 65 (Feb. 22), Air Force 62, New Mexico 55 (Feb. 24). This week: New Mexico at Colorado State (March 3).