Viejas Arena, San Diego, California
The Aztecs were looking forward to playing their first game at Viejas Arena in 2023, and it for sure looked like it on the scoreboard. In the battle for first place, San Diego State took down Nevada from start to finish 74-65.
On offense as a team the Aztecs were getting all the kinds of shots they wanted. SDSU shot 50% (25-50) from the field, 38.1% (8-21) from beyond the arc, and 80% (16-20) from the free throw line.
The trend as of lately has been a consistent and very efficient rate of buckets without having many scoring droughts throughout the game—until the end but more on that later.
Meanwhile, Brian Dutcher’s team had three players who scored in double digits. It was one of those nights where every Aztec seemed to always make the right decision. Their play in the first half was especially spectacular having outscored the Wolf Pack by 17, 44-27.
In the opening half, SDSU set the tone for the rest of the game hitting 43.7% from beyond the arc. Among all of the players that had fantastic outings there was one that had the best performance and has continued to do so.
Matt Bradley’s MVP campaign had another tremendous game, scoring a team-high 17 points, spearheading the Aztecs to victory. From the field, Bradley was 5-14 and knocked down two three-pointers—but it may have been the swagger with which he executed all of the above.
Throughout, the game Bradley was great at attacking the Wolf Pack defense by penetrating the lane or hitting, tough contested shots. Equally as impressive was Matt helping out on the boards. He grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds and was one of the catalysts in preventing Nevada from getting a ton of second-chance opportunities.
Another great Aztec performance was by guard Lamont Butler. Butler scored 15 points while shooting an efficient 5-9 from the field. His two three-pointers came at some of the highest points of Aztec scoring runs. In addition, Butler also added 4 assists, and 2 steals to round out his impressive night.
Butler also did an amazing job of running the offense by pushing the ball in transition and setting up his teammates and in the half-court sets he stepped up big time making great decisions with Darrion Trammell often being blanketed in coverage.
But we all know it’s Butler’s defense that gets things going. His main task was guarding Nevada’s, Kenan Blackshear. he gave him all could handle forcing Blackshear to need 18 shots just to get to 12 points on the evening.
Despite Butler giving up four inches in height to Blackshear, he used his quickness and tenacity to really be a disruption.
The X Factor
The play of Keshad Johnson was another strong game to take note of. Johnson scored 11 points while making 50% of the shots (4-8), and also drained in one three-pointer.
Johnson’s night was well-rounded adding in 3 steals, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists while displaying his length to the advantage on both sides of the ball. He was able to get to the hoop pretty easily, especially in the open floor when he had a couple of thunderous dunks.
On defense, Johnson was great at switching 1-5 and was able to guard anyone on the floor. At times, he was matched up against 6-4 guard Jarod Lucas, and in other situations, he was guarding Nevada’s 7’0 center Will Baker.
Two Factors for Victory
This may be the unsung story of the game overshadowed by all the made shots. The Aztecs defense was relentless for most of the night. Lucas, unquestionably Nevada’s go to scorer was just a paltry 3-10 shooting on the night with just one made 3-pointer.
No doubt the collective energy was amped up in the Aztecs’ minds to attack Lucas on defense and make the offense uncomfortable in their shots. Surprising was the effectiveness with which the smaller Aztecs backcourt was able to do this.
But with versatile players like Johnson, Arop, Mensah and Parrish with the ability to float down low or handle their own up top, the size and physicality that may have been viewed as a negative in the backcourt was actually maximized with their speed and quickness because of that inverse advantage from the size & versatility of those frontcourt players.
Coffee is for Closers
The big bodies dominated the paint for the Aztecs with thunderous dunks and defense. For the most part one would say this was the most complete performance of the year. But then, there are those pesky closing minutes.
After the 3 minute mark when the crowds began to head for the exits knowing a victory was in hand, that’s when things got tricky. The energy changed in the arena and it also did on the court.
The game was never in doubt, but with SDSU holding a lead by as much as 21 on the evening, they failed to score in the final 5 minutes of this game. Nevada put together a late flurry of a run to pull within 11 points and ended losing by the 9 point margin.
Turnovers, bad decisions, and losing their mental focus were the culprits for the mild comeback. By Matt Bradley’s admission on 760’s post game show,
“I think we played really hard for 37 minutes, to be honest i think fatigue got the best of us. We started getting a little helter-skelter … we’ve been drilling really hard as far as late game situations … we’ve done better in previous games except the obvious one (Arkansas) … I think we just gotta go back and drill it. It’s uncharacteristic for this team but we won the game and that’s most important.”
On this evening, jumping on Nevada early and quick proved to be enough.
Even in the defeat, Nevada had a couple of players that had outstanding games. On the night, Nevada’s best game was from Freshman Nick Davidson who led the Wolfpack with 17 points. Off the bench, he made 50% of his shots (5-10) which included one three-pointer. Davidson also grabbed 7 rebounds, 4 of them were offensive.
The Aztecs next face New Mexico (15-2,2-2) on Saturday, January 14th at Viejas Arena. The game tips off at 6:00 pm and is broadcasted on CBS Sports Network.