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Aztecs smother Rebels to sweep season series

The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels had no answers for the No. 25 San Diego State Aztecs Saturday, Feb. 11 and were handed their ninth loss of the season in an 81-72 defeat.

From the jump, the Aztecs were the faster and more efficient team as they dominated the game from start to finish.

“We were a little on our heels,” UNLV head coach Kevin Kruger said. “It’s just one of those things. It’s a tough road environment, and this is kind of the outlier for us on the road.”

The Rebels are 4-4 on the road this year but have played several tight games. Saturday did indeed feel like an outlier where the team was outclassed for 40 minutes.

They’ll look to rebound Tuesday, Feb. 14 back at the Thomas & Mack against San Jose State, who defeated the Rebels in overtime in the Mountain West opener back in December.

At Viejas Arena on Saturday, the Aztecs scored early and often, racing out to a 14-6 lead in the first five minutes of the game. The game truly got out of hand just minutes after, when San Diego State rattled off a 14-0 run in just under four minutes to balloon their lead to 30-11.

UNLV tried to regroup, but SDSU was relentless, stifling every opportunity for the visitors to make a run and would go into the half with a 20-point lead.

Cold shooting and poor rebounding were the two main causes of the Rebels’ demise in the first half. They shot just 25% from the field and grabbed only six rebounds, not giving themselves nearly enough opportunities to keep things close.

Those trends carried on into the second half, as San Diego State continued their onslaught, leading by as much as 23 points en route to victory.

For as poor as they played for the majority of the game, UNLV did however finish strong. They strung together a 15-4 run to end the game, but it was too little too late.

“It was good that the guys continued to compete,” Kruger said. “But at the same time, it was something that we would have had to do a little bit earlier to get something going.”

The Aztecs were led in scoring by guard Adam Seiko off the bench, who nailed six threes for all 18 of his points on the day.

SDSU starters Matt Bradley and Keshad Johnson weren’t far behind, chipping 17 and 14 points respectively to aid Seiko’s three-point barrage.

Fifth-year senior Nathan Mensah dropped 11 points and a career-high 11 rebounds to help the Aztecs to a +19 advantage in rebounds by the end of the game.

As for the Rebels, the guard duo of E.J. Harkless and Keshon Gilbert carried the load offensively. The two combined for 43 of the teams’ 71 points on the day and were a solid 50% from the field.

The rest of the UNLV starters combined for just five points. Center David Muoka had 12 of the bench’s 22 points, underscoring the lack of depth scoring UNLV experienced on Saturday.

The Rebels have now lost 10 of their last 11 games against the Aztecs, their lone win coming in 2020 when they knocked down the No.4 Aztecs at Viejas Arena.

UNLV is seventh in the Mountain West Conference Standings, tied with Fresno State and currently sits a game and a half behind San Jose State for sixth, making Tuesday’s game at the Thomas & Mack that much more important.

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