With a chance to shock all of the college basketball world, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
UNLV lost to San Diego State, 71-62, Wednesday, March 3 from the Thomas & Mack Center.
“We knew against a very good team the importance of every possession,” head coach TJ Otzelberger said. “Felt like we had some good spurts but didn’t play a complete enough game for forty minutes.”
Coming into this game, the Aztecs had won their last 10 games while the Rebels were winners of eight of their last 10 games at home.
UNLV had a chance to continue to make up ground in the Mountain West, hoping to catch No. 5 Nevada – Reno.
The loss sends the Rebels to 11-13 on the year and 8-9 in the conference with one more game to go.
On the other hand, the win gave the Aztecs the regular season conference title.
After the game, Otzelberger was asked if he can get his team’s talent level up-to-par with SDSU’s within the next year.
“I don’t know about next year,” he said. “It’s a program they’ve built for over 20 years with Coach [Steve] Fisher and [Brian] Dutcher. They have a tremendous sense of pride in their program but it was one when they started it wasn’t at the top of the league. They’ve built it over time, meticulously, and the pride in the program they have is tremendous.”
UNLV will wrap up its regular season schedule with a Saturday, March 6 road matchup against the Wyoming Cowboys.
“I’d say value every possession,” junior guard David Jenkins Jr. said. “I just feel like sometimes we start off strong or vice versa, we’ll start off slow but I just feel like we need to value every possession on offense and defense.”
With the game tied at 28 in the first half, SDSU used a 7-0 run to end the first half and take a 35-28 lead into halftime.
“Really thought when we had it at 28-all prior to half, that 7-0 run just before the halftime hurt us,” Otzelberger said. “We’ve just got to be more stubborn, more gritty and stay the course and not have those runs against us because against a good defensive club like that its hard to make up those runs.”
To compound matters, the Aztecs went on a 7-0 run coming out of the break to run their lead to 14 points.
“As I was just telling my teammates, ‘The margin for error on that team is very very little,” Jenkins Jr. said. “They went on a run because their defense is really solid and they don’t make too many mistakes.”
Otzelberger spoke specifically about his team’s defense after the game.
“When you look at the stat sheet we held them to what 36 percent from the field,” he said. “I felt like in general we did an alright job but I do think that’s where the switching hurt us. It wasn’t at the immediate point of the screen, it was when they throw the ball into the post and then now we have to make decisions defensively guarding the postup.”
Other than those runs, it can be argued that UNLV outplayed SDSU.
As a team, the Rebels shot 39 percent from the floor to the Aztecs’ 36 percent.
In addition, both teams made nine three-pointers with UNLV ending the night with a better percentage by a point.
However, SDSU shot 17 more free throws than its opponent while committing six less fouls.
“It really hurt us because when you look at the final score, they shot 26 foul shots,” Otzelberger said. “And made 22 of them. It’s been a theme for us that it’s been hard for us to erase that deficit.”
Three Rebel players committed at least four fouls.
Junior guard Bryce Hamilton fouled out with nine points on 3-of-14 from the field.
“Teams are well-aware of his ability to score the ball, particularly driving left and trying to get into the paint,” Otzelberger said. “Last year it was interesting because through the balance of the season, we played two point guards and that first half of the year, [Hamilton] averaged about 10.5 [points per game]. In the second half, he was around 22 [ppg] and shot over 50 from the field.
“Now you put us in a spot where we don’t have any natural point guard out there, much less having the two that we had last year. So it puts more pressure and stress on Bryce to make plays.”
Over his last four games, Hamilton has 66 points on 81 shot attempts with a 30 percent field goal percentage.
Jenkins Jr. scored 32 points in his first start in over a month.
“When [you] make your first couple of shots, it brings confidence overall,” he said. “One thing that really gets me going more than making shots is I remember when I was guarding a guy full court and I had him turn the ball over at halfcourt, that’s what really gets me going because my teammates feed off that even more.”
Jenkins Jr. shot 11-of-23 from the floor including shooting 50 percent from three-point range.
He had seven of the team’s nine made three-pointers.
Hamilton and Jenkins Jr. combined to take 63 percent of UNLV’s shots from the field.
“They’re physical first off,” Jenkins Jr. said. “When you try to drive by them they bump you off your line, they switch hard, they get up on shooters and one thing I noticed, they talk during the whole game.”
The rest of the team combined to go 9-of-22 from the field, 2-of-8 from three and attempted one of the team’s nine free throw attempts.