No. 19 Aztecs Defeat UNLV To Clinch Second Straight Mountain West Title
SDSU enters next week’s Championship as the No. 1 seed.
Despite Thompson’s last-minute scheduling placing several teams’ NCAA Tournament standings in jeopardy, the Aztecs prevailed.
Las Vegas, NV — The San Diego State Aztecs (20-4, 14-3 MW) defeated the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (8-9, 11-13 MW) 71-62 in the Thomas & Mack Center on Wednesday night.
The Aztecs have 11 straight wins, and tonight for the second straight year, they outright clinched the Mountain West Conference Regular Season Title. They have also secured the No. 1 seed for next week’s conference Tourney in Las Vegas.
For the Aztecs, Matt Mitchell scored 19 points to lead San Diego State. Jordan Schakel nearly had his first career double-double: 16 points (4 of 6 behind the arc) and nine rebounds in 30 minutes. Nathan Mensah finished with 14 points- his most in 13 games.
For the Rebels, David Jenkins scored a whopping 32 points to lead the Rebels, who played their final home game of the regular season. Dominant scorer Bryce Hamilton scored nine but made just 3 of 14. UNLV closes the regular season Saturday at Wyoming.
The Aztecs have won eight MW regular-season titles, including the latest two consecutive crowns. SDSU has captured the regular-season trophy outright five times while sharing the title three times.
“What this team accomplished this season was really special,” coach Brian Dutcher said. “I couldn’t be more proud of a team or a coaching staff. … We’ve got players who have sacrificed parts of their games so we can win. Hopefully, our best basketball is still ahead of us.”
The Aztecs didn’t cut down nets in Thomas & Mack. They cleaned up, and got out of Dodge- in an effort to avoid Covid-19 exposure before their conference tournament next week back in Las Vegas and a potentially deep run in the NCAA Tournament, for which they are an at-large lock.
This game was mandated by Commissioner Craig Thompson despite real concerns and a strong preference not to play by both SDSU coach Brian Dutcher and UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger.
Their objections to the final make-up games stemmed from the ongoing threat of Covid; the fatigue of playing damaging back-to-back-to-back games, and the potential for little to gain but so very much to lose.
It was the case for Boise State who lost to lackluster Fresno State. The Broncos probably lost their chance for a Tournament at-large berth after a mostly stellar season, due to Wednesday’s result. They were likely still fatigued after a fiercely contested series against the Aztecs.
Coaches, players and fans alike have all marveled at the judgment, short sightedness- and seeming indifference of Commissioner Thompson during recent weeks, months and years. This latest use of judgment- in putting players in harm’s way physically, medically and strategically- won’t earn him much support from anybody.
The Aztecs will be once again back at the Thomas & Mack next week for the conference tournament (although playing on a different floor with the silhouette of a mountain range instead of The Strip).
The 2021 Mountain West Men’s Basketball Championship is scheduled for March 10-13 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
The men’s first-round contests begin on Wednesday, March 10, and will be lived streamed on the Mountain West Network. CBS Sports Network will televise the quarterfinal and semifinals on Thursday, March 11, and Friday, March 12, while the men’s championship final will air on CBS on Saturday, March 13.