Mountain West rankings: UNLV hangs 1st loss on San Diego State
For the Nevada Appeal
The San Diego State Aztecs are not unbeatable after all.
“We tasted defeat for the first time and it didn’t taste very good,” Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher said after a stunning 66-63 loss at home to the UNLV Rebels on Saturday. “Anybody that was saying they thought a loss would be good for the Aztecs, we don’t feel that way at all. We’re vastly disappointed. We wanted a perfect season.”
The Aztecs, still the No. 1 team in the latest Nevada Appeal Mountain West men’s basketball rankings, are now 26-1 overall and 15-1 in the conference with two games remaining in the regular season. San Diego State will host Colorado State on Tuesday and then travel to Nevada to play the No. 3 Wolf Pack on Saturday.
“This is kind of a reality check,” San Diego State’s Matt Mitchell said. “It shows we’re not invincible.”
UNLV, which moved up two spots to No. 4, led the Aztecs 37-25 at halftime and 57-46 with 4:32 to play. The Rebels still led 62-53 with 2:43 left.
Malachi Flynn started the Aztecs’ comeback with a 3-pointer with 2:36 to go and also had a pair of free throws with 1:47 left and another 3-pointer with 14 seconds remaining to cut UNLV’s lead to just 64-63.
UNLV’s Elijah Mitrou-Long, though, then made the play of the game. He inbounded the ball off the back of Mitchell, grabbed the basketball and then was fouled by Mitchell with 11 seconds to play. The senior then made two free throws for a 66-63 Rebel lead.
“I’ve never done that before (inbounding the ball off an opponent’s back) but I’ve watched guys do it. I saw he was standing still so I threw it in.”
“That’s just a real smart play at a key point in the game by a fifth-year senior,” UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger said.
The game, though, was not over after Mitrou-Long’s two free throws. Flynn got a good look at a 3-pointer with six seconds to play but missed.
“We fought to the end,” Dutcher said.
Mitrou-Long, who had 19 points, made four free throws in the final 19 seconds after missing a pair with 1:52 to play with UNLV up 62-56.
“I missed two earlier but that didn’t get me discouraged,” Mitrou-Long said. “I knew my time was going to come again.”
UNLV, which has won four of its last five games to improve to 15-14, 10-6, was 6-of-13 on threes in the first half but missed 9-of-10 in the second half. The Rebels also shot 58 percent from the floor (15-of-26) in the first half and just 28 percent (8-of-29) in the second half.
UNLV also made just one basket (a jumper by Mitrou-Long with 3:01 left) in the final 10:44. UNLV scored 11 of its last 13 points from the free throw line.
“In the second half we guarded like crazy,” Dutcher said. “But offensively we just couldn’t get over the hump.”
Flynn finished with 24 points, nine rebounds and six assists. But UNLV held the Aztecs’ Yanni Wetzell, who was averaging 12 points a game, to just seven points (1-of-6 on free throws).
“Now we’ll see how we respond to this,” Dutcher said. “If there’s a team able to handle defeat, this one is as good as any.”
San Diego State put up a banner before the game celebrating its Mountain West regular season title this year.
“We took it in a disrespectful way,” Mitrou-Long said.
“Is there a chance it got talked about in our locker room pre-game?” Otzelberger said. “Potentially. But I seem to forget what we said.”
The Rebels, which will host the conference tournament March 4-7, host Boise State and travel to San Jose State this week.
“It’s a confidence booster,” Mitrou-Long said. “It gives us hope. We’re going to cherish this moment. But we’re also going to move on because we really haven’t done anything yet.”
No. 2 Utah State (22-7, 11-5) whipped Wyoming 78-58 last week behind 26 points from Sam Merrill (second in the conference at 18.9 points a game) and 20 points and 14 rebounds from Justin Bean. The Aggies have won eight of their last nine games.
No. 3 Nevada (18-10, 11-5) whipped New Mexico 88-74 on the road and got past Fresno State 78-76 at home last week. Jalen Harris, the Mountain West scoring leader at 21.6 points a game, scored 46 points combined in the two games but was also just 3-of-11 on threes.
The Wolf Pack, still in the hunt for second place, will play at Wyoming on Tuesday and host San Diego State on Saturday to close out the regular season.
No. 5 Boise State (19-10, 11-6) beat San Jose State (80-62) and New Mexico (74-61) last week. Justinian Jessup had 20 points and four threes against San Jose State while R.J. Williams had 27 points and 17 rebounds against New Mexico. The Broncos will close out their regular season with an important game at UNLV on Wednesday.
No. 6 Colorado State (19-10, 10-6) lost badly (80-56) at UNLV last Tuesday and struggled to beat San Jose State (78-71) at home on Saturday. No. 7 Fresno State (10-18, 6-11) beat Air Force (71-62) but then blew a nine-point lead with just under seven minutes to play in a 78-76 loss at Nevada.
No. 8 New Mexico (17-12, 6-10) continued to struggle with losses to Nevada (88-74) and Boise State (74-61). The Lobos have lost nine of their last 11 games. Wyoming climbed up a spot to No. 9 thanks to a 78-72 win at Air Force on Saturday. Greg Milton had 28 points on four threes for the Cowboys. Milton, a 6-foot-3 sophomore transfer from Sacramento City College, had just 83 points over his first 27 games this season.
No. 10 Air Force (10-18, 4-12) lost to Fresno State (71-62) and Wyoming (78-72). Lavelle Scottie had 33 points in the two games combined. The Falcons were just 3-of-14 on threes against Wyoming.
No. 11 San Jose State lost to Boise State (80-62) and Colorado State (78-71) despite 60 points in the two games combined by Seneca Knight. Knight, fourth in the Mountain West in scoring at 17 points a game, had 37 against Colorado State, draining 14-of-15 free throws.
The Nevada Appeal Mountain West men’s basketball rankings for the week of Feb. 24-March 1 . . .
1. SAN DIEGO STATE (26-1, 15-1). This week: vs. Colorado State (Tuesday); at Nevada (Saturday).
2. UTAH STATE (22-7, 11-5). This week: vs. San Jose State (Tuesday); at New Mexico (Saturday).
3. NEVADA (18-10, 11-5). This week: at Wyoming (Tuesday); vs. San Diego State (Saturday).
4. UNLV (15-14, 10-6). This week: vs. Boise State (Wednesday); at San Jose State (Saturday).
5. BOISE STATE (19-10, 11-6). This week: at UNLV (Wednesday).
6. COLORADO STATE (19-10, 10-6). This week: at San Diego State (Tuesday); vs. Air Force (Saturday).
7. FRESNO STATE (10-18, 6-11). This week: vs. Wyoming (Saturday).
8. NEW MEXICO (17-12, 6-10). This week: at Air Force (Wednesday); vs. Utah State (Saturday).
9. WYOMING (7-21, 2-14). This week: vs. Nevada (Tuesday); at Fresno State (Saturday).
10. AIR FORCE (10-18, 4-12). This week: vs. New Mexico (Wednesday); at Colorado State (Saturday).
11. SAN JOSE STATE (7-21, 3-13). This week: at Utah State (Tuesday); vs. UNLV (Saturday).