Aztecs Run the Rebels Out of Viejas Arena 82-71

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Tyler Perches – Contributing Reporter
Viejas Arena, San Diego, CA

The Aztecs had a phenomenal first half and cruised to an 11-point victory over UNLV 82-71 Saturday afternoon in-front of a raucous sold-out Viejas Arena crowd. The win completed the regular season sweep of the Rebels and improved SDSU’s overall record to 20-5 and 11-2 in Mountain West play.

The Aztecs jumped out to a 43-23 halftime lead and despite a brief lull in the 2nd half, SDSU dominated in a workmanlike fashion. Coach Brian Dutcher’s team had multiple players who performed tremendously versus the red hot UNLV team. As a team, four players scored in double figures for the red & black.

Overall, SDSU shot 51.7% (31-60) from the field and 42.9% (12-28) from beyond the arc. While the Aztecs held UNLV to only make 40.7% (22-54) of his shots, and only knock down 27.3% (6-22) of its three-point attempts. 

The player of the game for the Aztecs is a tough one to pick out but we selected guard Matt Bradley. Bradley, the senior from San Bernardino, scored 17 points, which was the second most from an Aztec on the night. Bradley also added four rebounds and dished out two assists. 

Over the last few games Bradley had struggled with being inefficient. But today was not the case. Bradley was 6-8 from the field and was 3-5 from beyond the arc. In addition, Bradley knocked down both of his free throws.  Bradley as usual mixed up his shot selection from a variety of different spots and angles.

He hit a couple of deep and contested threes using his amazing handles to seek some space. Also, he made baskets by driving to the hoop and using his big frame by pushing the UNLV defenders off of him. This included a thunderous dunk off a steal in the first half. 

Another player that had an amazing performance was senior Adam Seiko. Seiko led the Aztecs with 18 points and scored all of his points from beyond the arc. Seiko made six three-pointers in only 10 three-point attempts, but this is the possibilities he possesses when given that many attempts from behind the arc.

Opposing teams have yet to learn, if they aren’t staying attached to Seiko he will really make you pay for it.  Despite UNLV understanding this as they gave him little space to work with, Seiko was able to still make them pay for it. 

On the season Seiko is maintaining his above 50% 3-point shooting success.

The one player that has recently set the tone for the past few games, has been Keshad Johnson. Johnson scored in double figures with 14 points and 9 of his 14 came in the games first five minutes of the ballgame.

Arguably Johnson’s best stretch of the season, during these 5 minutes he hit shots from all over the court. Johnson made two mid-range jump shots, one alley-opp dunk, and one three-pointer made. 

Nathan Mensah was the fourth Aztec to score in double figures. Mensah scored 11 points, and also grabbed 11 rebounds for a double-double. Most impressive was that 7 of his 11 rebounds were on the offensive side of the ball.

When Nathan is playing at his all-conference caliber self, his activity on the boards allows the Aztecs to have a bunch of second-chance opportunities. Overall, SDSU as a team grabbed 14 offensive rebounds. 

While the Aztecs in history only have one player to ever notch a triple-double, Lamont Butler put up an overall performance in this game that showed glimpses of his ability to also get it done. With an output of 7 points, 7 assists and 7 rebounds, Lamont is truly stepping up into form as a capable glue-guy at the guard position. Add that with his intense defense and we may be in store for a special tournament run.

Even though, the Aztecs won by 11 points there was one area in which they really struggled. This is in the aspect of turnovers. SDSU committed 18 turnovers, which is leaving a lot more points on the board despite already putting up 82 on the scoreboard.

On the season, the Aztecs only turn over the ball 11.9 times per game. Trammell and Butler the Aztecs’ starting guards combined to give the basketball away 11 of those times. While UNLV’s defense has been a turnover machine this season, hopefully for Dutcher’s backcourt this is just a blip on the progress, as this cannot happen if SDSU wants to continue winning into March.

The biggest takeaway Aztecs fans can have from this dominating performance is the confidence and poise this offense is operating at in this point of the season. SDSU’s offense according to KenPom is rated the #1 efficient offense in the Mountain West conference—not a ranking most Aztecs fans would immediately think of when looking at the season overall.

This is an immensely impressive reality to a program most well regarded for it’s defensive minded efficiency. Coach Dutcher undoubtedly is banking on this improvement to put the Aztecs over the top come tournament time. Given the defense continues to improve above their standard, this is the perfect time to be peaking offensively.

Even in the loss, UNLV did have some bright spots. Both UNLV starting guards in Keshon Gilbert and EJ Harkless played really well. 

Harkless led them with 24 points, shooting 5-12 from the field and 3-6 from a long distance. In addition, Harkless did a great job getting to the free-throw line connecting on 11-13. 

Guard Keshon Gilbert had a great game by scoring 19 points. He was 7-12 from the field and knocked down all five of his free throw attempts. Both Harkless and Gilbert really got to their favorite spots really well and gave the SDSU defense issues all night. However, their efforts just weren’t enough agains the incredibly deep SDSU roster.

Next up, the Aztecs will travel to Fresno, California on Wednesday, February 15th  to face off against the Fresno State University Bulldogs (9-15, 5-8). The game tips off at 8:00 pm and airs on CBS Sports Network. 

Stay tuned today for a new Sons of Montezuma Kiss The Rings basketball podcast episode.

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