Mountain West rankings: San Diego State 28-1 but coach ‘a little concerned’
For the Nevada Appeal
Brian Dutcher does not like what he has seen out of his San Diego State Aztecs lately.
“I’m a little concerned over the last three games,” said Dutcher, whose Aztecs (28-1, 17-1) ended the regular season this past weekend as the No. 1 team in the Nevada Appeal Mountain West men’s basketball rankings. “We have to get back to playing a higher level of defense because it’s March.”
The last three games have seen the Aztecs lose to the UNLV Rebels (66-63) and beat the Colorado State Rams (66-60) and Nevada Wolf Pack (83-76). The Aztecs trailed by seven with eight minutes to play against Colorado State and were down by 13 with 17 minutes to go at Nevada.
“We’ve been letting teams shoot 50 percent,” said Dutcher, whose Aztecs allow a Mountain West-low 59.2 points a game. “We can’t let teams shoot like that against us.”
Well, not exactly. No team this season, actually, has shot 50 percent against the Aztecs. Nevada came close on Saturday night, shooting 49 percent (26-of-53). UNLV shot just 42 percent against the Aztecs and Colorado State was at 40 percent. Nevada’s 76 points, though, are the most San Diego State has allowed all season.
The Wolf Pack, though, which shot 46 percent (10-of-22) on threes against San Diego State (the best percentage beyond the arc against the Aztecs this year), gave Dutcher plenty to be worried about heading into this week’s Mountain West tournament in Las Vegas.
“We were rattled,” Dutcher said.
The season’s largest crowd (10,855) of the year at Lawlor Events Center had something to do with it.
“It was hostile,” San Diego State’s K.J. Feagin said. “It was a gut check. We were down, we were bruised but we were not defeated.”
Just one team (UNLV) has defeated the Aztecs this season. San Diego State’s 17-1 conference record is the best in the history of the Mountain West, topping Utah’s 13-1 league record in 2004-05.
“We’re ready for March,” Dutcher said.
No. 3 Nevada (19-11, 12-6) saw four streaks evaporate against the Aztecs. The Wolf Pack had won 20 Mountain West games at home in a row and three games in a row against the Aztecs at Lawlor. Nevada also saw its 10-game home winning streak and its six-game winning streak overall this year come to a close.
The Wolf Pack will open Mountain West tournament play on Thursday (8:30 p.m.) at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas against the winner of Wednesday’s Wyoming-Colorado State game.
Nevada, No. 2 Utah State and No. 4 UNLV all finished with a 12-6 conference record this year. Utah State earned the No. 2 seed in the tournament because of its 80-70 win over Nevada on Jan. 11 in the only meeting of the year between the two teams. Nevada got the No. 3 seed because it beat UNLV twice this season.
Utah State, like Nevada, ended its regular season on a disappointing note. The Aggies were stunned at New Mexico 66-64. Utah State led 63-59 with just over a minute to go (1:19) and then scored just one point the rest of the way as New Mexico went on a 7-1 run.
The Lobos, ranked No. 8, had lost five in a row and 10 of their last 12 before beating Utah State. The Aggies had won six in a row and nine of their last 10.
“It’s been rough,” said New Mexico coach Paul Weir of the Lobos’ 7-11 record (18-13 overall) in the Mountain West. “We’ve lost close ones that make you feel you are a lot worse than maybe you really are. To break through and get this one, that says a lot about our guys. To end on this note, hopefully, it gives us some really good energy heading into (the conference tournament).”
UNLV (17-14, 12-6) beat Boise State (76-66) and San Jose State (92-69) last week and has now won five games in a row and six of its last seven. Amauri Hardy had 41 points combined in the two games while Elijah Mitrou-Long had 36.
“Our guys have really been focused,” UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “Their energy has been great and they have really played for each other. I’m proud to see our guys continue to get better at the right time of year.”
UNLV will open tournament play against No. 5 Boise State (19-11, 11-7) on Thursday (2 p.m.). Boise State’s only game last week was the 10-point loss at UNLV. Justinian Jessup, who leads the Mountain West with 93 3-pointers, had 19 points and four 3-pointers for the Broncos. R.J. Williams had 10 points and 13 rebounds but the UNLV defense held Boise State to just 31 percent (20-of-64) shooting.
No. 6 Colorado State lost to San Diego State (66-60) and beat Air Force (87-74) last week. The Rams (20-11, 11-7), which led San Diego State 36-34 at halftime, got 17 points and seven rebounds from Nico Carvacho against San Diego State and 21 points and seven 3-pointers from Kendle Moore against Air Force.
No. 7 Fresno State (11-18, 7-11) beat Wyoming 63-55 last week. Jarred Hyder and Niven Hart led the Bulldogs with 11 points each. The Bulldogs open the Mountain West tournament on Wednesday at noon against Air Force.
No. 9 Air Force (11-19, 5-13) beat New Mexico (60-58) at home and lost on the road at Colorado State (87-74). Lavelle Scottie had 36 points in the two games while Ryan Swan had 34. Swan also had 21 rebounds in the two games.
No. 10 Wyoming dropped a pair of close games last week to Nevada (73-68) and Fresno State (63-55). Jake Hendricks had 27 points and seven threes against Nevada while T.J. Taylor had 30 points in the two games combined.
No. 11 San Jose State fell to 7-23, 3-15 with one-sided losses last week to Utah State (94-56) and UNLV (92-69). The Spartans have lost nine games in a row and 12 of their last 13. San Jose State has also allowed 90 or more points in seven if its last 12 games.
The Nevada Appeal Mountain West men’s basketball rankings:
1. SAN DIEGO STATE (28-1, 17-1). Next game: vs. Fresno State-Air Force winner at Las Vegas (Thursday, 11:30 a.m.).
2. UTAH STATE (23-8, 12-6). Next game: vs. New Mexico-San Jose State winner at Las Vegas (Thursday, 6 p.m.).
3. NEVADA (19-11, 12-6). Next game: vs. Colorado State-Wyoming winner at Las Vegas (Thursday, 8:30 p.m.).
4. UNLV (17-14, 12-6). Next game: vs. Boise State at Las Vegas (Thursday, 2 p.m.).
5. BOISE STATE (19-11, 11-7). Next game: vs. UNLV at Las Vegas (Thursday, 2 p.m.).
6. COLORADO STATE (20-11, 11-7). Next game: vs. Wyoming at Las Vegas (Wednesday, 5 p.m.).
7. FRESNO STATE (11-18, 7-11). Next game: vs. Air Force at Las Vegas (Wednesday, noon).
8. NEW MEXICO (18-13, 7-11). Next game: vs. San Jose State at Las Vegas (Wednesday, 2:30 p.m.).
9. AIR FORCE (11-19, 5-13). Next game: vs. Fresno State at Las Vegas (Wednesday, noon).
10. WYOMING (7-23, 2-16). Next game: vs. Colorado State at Las Vegas (Wednesday, 5 p.m.).
11. SAN JOSE STATE (7-23, 3-15). Next game: vs. New Mexico at Las Vegas (Wednesday, 2:30 p.m.).