Rebels basketball:

Blog: Aztecs make the key plays and pull away from UNLV for 73-64 win

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV guard Deville Smith puts up a shot against San Diego State during their Mountain West Conference game Wednesday, March 5, 2015.

Updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 | 10:20 p.m.

UNLV vs. San Diego State: March 5, 2014

UNLV guard Bryce Dejean Jones has his shot blocked by San Diego State forward Skylar Spencer during their Mountain West Conference game Wednesday, March 5, 2014. Launch slideshow »

San Diego State 73, UNLV 64

Game over

The Rebels went cold down the stretch and No. 10 San Diego State turned a tie game with 3:30 remaining into a 73-64 victory tonight at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Xavier Thames and Winston Shepard took over during a two-minute stretch that helped the Aztecs (26-3, 15-2) set up a home showdown Saturday with New Mexico that will decide the outright Mountain West champion. The Rebels (19-11, 10-7) will go to UNR with the 3-seed on the line for the winner. UNLV would play in the 4-5 game if the Wolf Pack complete the season sweep.

Khem Birch finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds but was mostly contained in the final 15 minutes as SDSU double-teamed him in the post and limited his points to the free-throw line. Kevin Olekaibe finished with 11 points, none of them in the final 15 minutes, and the Rebels shot 2-for-12 on 3-point attempts in the second half.

Overall the Rebels made only seven shots in the second half, relying instead on 14-of-18 shooting at the free-throw line. However, those misses came at an inopportune time as Shepard (13 points) and Thames (18 points) were heating up.

Matt Shrigley scored 14 points for SDSU, all of them in the second half and most on 3-pointers. He was a big reason the Aztecs were able to survive 12 combined points from their three main big men.

UNLV committed 16 total turnovers, which turned into 19 points for SDSU. Overall the Rebels shot 38.5 percent from the field.

Check lasvegassun.com later tonight for a full report from the Rebels' defeat.

 

That number next to San Diego State is a good indication of how well the Aztecs have played this season. And considering UNLV’s recent success against top-10 teams, it’s probably best the Rebels ignore it altogether.

According to info gathered by UNLV Athletics, the Rebels are 1-9 in their last 10 games against top-10 foes. That includes a loss earlier this season to the Aztecs, who were No. 10 in the Associated Press poll on Jan. 18 just like they are today.

The game tips off at 8 p.m. and will air on CBS Sports Network.

Since then SDSU (25-3, 14-2) has lost a couple of games, dropping it into a first-place tie with New Mexico, although the Aztecs look as confident as ever after bouncing back and last weekend easily dispatching Fresno State, who had been the hottest team in the league.

The Rebels (19-10, 10-6) didn’t play very well in the last meeting, with Bryce Dejean-Jones and Deville Smith combining to shoot 12-for-44. And this time UNLV will be without Roscoe Smith, who’s out because of a concussion, against one of the league’s best rebounding teams.

Those are some of the challenges. What UNLV has going in its favor is an offense that’s been on a roll the past three games and a group that’s excited about what they can do in a zone defense.

The players have always seemed to like the zone while working on it in practice. Now that they’ve finally run it in some games — several straight possessions against Colorado State and 40 minutes at Air Force — they have confidence it works in games, too.

Neither of these teams shoots the 3 well, so a zone could entice the Aztecs to jack up a few more long shots than they would against UNLV’s man. Percentage-wise, that’s a positive for the Rebels, although in a single game anything can happen.

Without Roscoe Smith to be UNLV’s on-court energy man, I think Dejean-Jones will have to fill that role. When he’s dialed in from the beginning and motivated to get to the rim, eh usually has a lot of success and sets up a lot of options for UNLV’s offense.

Without that then UNLV may struggle to properly take advantage of what should be a great home environment, although Khem Birch could also help in that department. The bottom line is, unless San Diego State has an uncharacteristically off night, it’s going to take basically UNLV’s best shot to win. And that’s asking a lot of a depleted squad.

Bern’s prediction: Unlike the game at Viejas Arena, where I picked the Rebels to lose by 11, I think this one’s going to be close. I would take the points on the 3-point spread, and I wouldn’t be shocked by a Rebels win, but down a starter I think that may be asking a little too much. San Diego State 69, UNLV 67

Season: ATS 17-12, O/U 20-7-2

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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