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Wade Vandervort

UNLV Rebels guard Bryce Hamilton (13) warms up before a game against the San Diego Aztecs at Thomas & Mack Center, Wednesday, March 3, 2021.

Updated 13 minutes ago

UNLV showed a little something in trimming the deficit to eight points, but San Diego State responded with a 3-pointer and a loud alley-oop dunk to restore its 58-45 lead with 7:08 remaining.

David Jenkins hit consecutive jumpers and Nick Blake drove for a layup to get UNLV within 53-45, and it looked like the scarlet and gray might have a run in them. But SDSU slammed that door quickly. 

It’s been a nightmarish game for Bryce Hamilton, who now has seven points on 2-of-13 shooting. Jenkins is leading UNLV with 24 points.

San Diego State is shooting 42.1 percent in the second half, and with the way the Aztecs play defense that will probably be good enough to hold off UNLV unless something drastically changes.

San Diego State extends lead over UNLV

Things are not looking good for UNLV, as San Diego State opened the second half with a 7-0 run to push its lead to 44-32 with 15:28 remaining.

Overall, the Aztecs’ 14-0 run spanned both halves and has put SDSU in control of this game. UNLV is now shooting 31.4 percent from the field (11-of-35), and T.J. Otzelberger’s squad is still looking for its first field goal since the half. Bryce Hamilton is now 2-of-11 from the field.

Let’s see how much longer UNLV can hang on against this dominant San Diego State defense, and if they can find a way to chip away at this deficit.

San Diego State surges ahead of UNLV at half

Good teams close halves, and that’s what No. 19 San Diego State just did, finishing the first frame with a 7-0 run to take a 35-28 lead over UNLV into the break.

UNLV had been hanging around up to that point thanks to a combination of gritty defense, fortunate offense and David Jenkins’ shooting (4-of-7 from 3-point range). It was a physical first half and UNLV matched SDSU’s intensity, especially on the defensive end, where Moses Wood has been the unlikely star with four rebounds and four blocks.

Neither team has shot the ball particularly well; UNLV is 10-of-30 from the field while San Diego State is 11-of-30, but the Aztecs have done a better job of working the ball inside and getting to the free-throw line (7-of-8). SDSU forward Matt Mitchell has 12 points, while Jordan Schakel has 10.

San Diego State’s pressure defense has created problems for UNLV, which lacks a true primary ball-handler who can advance the ball against fullcourt defense. T.J. Otzelberger will have to scheme up a way to alleviate some of that pressure in the second half. If he can, and if a few more shots drop for the home team, UNLV could make an upset bid.

UNLV tied with San Diego State

UNLV is struggling to dribble or complete basic passes against San Diego State’s oppressive defense, and yet they’ve battled the Aztecs to a 17-17 draw with 7:57 remaining in the first half.

The scarlet and gray are surviving on garbage points and SDSU gaffes. Moses Wood just scored on putback, and David Jenkins followed with a second-chance 3-pointer (after an offensive rebound of a Jenkins missed 3), and those are indicative of the ways UNLV is scoring right now. Jenkins in particular has been huge, as he’s 4-of-5 from deep for 12 points.

San Diego State has helped the cause by shooting 6-of-17 from the field with several careless live-ball turnovers thrown in for good measure. And Nathan Mensah airballed an open dunk after misjudging how far from the rim he was; as long as the Aztecs keep making those kinds of mistakes, UNLV can hang around.

Jenkins hot early as UNLV jumps on San Diego State

UNLV is showing signs of life early, as David Jenkins knocked down three 3-pointers in the opening minutes to give the scarlet and gray a 9-8 lead with 15:41 left in the half.

San Diego State is tough to score on—just about every metric has the Aztecs as a top 10 defense—so UNLV is going to have to make shots tonight, and Jenkins is key to that. He is UNLV’s best 3-point shooter (40.8 percent on the season coming into the game), so getting him going is a good sign.

At the other end, SDSU hasn’t had much issue getting the ball inside the UNLV defense for some easy baskets. Center Mbacke Diong should play a key role as a rim deterrent as the game unfolds.

Three keys for UNLV basketball vs. San Diego State

UNLV spoiled San Diego State’s run at an undefeated season last year, and for a while it looked like the Aztecs might not get an opportunity for revenge after the teams’ regular-season series was postponed due to COVID-19. But with the Mountain West playing makeup games this week, we’ll finally get to see that anticipated rematch.

UNLV is sputtering toward the finish line at 11-12 overall and 8-8 in MWC play while No. 19 San Diego State is enjoying another terrific season (19-4 overall, 13-3 MWC), but you can throw out the records for this rivalry showdown.

Three keys to watch:

Bookend lineups

T.J. Otzelberger shuffled his rotation again in the second game against Fresno State, moving David Jenkins to the starting lineup, and that group performed reasonably well, outscoring the Bulldogs 25-20 in more than 11 minutes of court time. And at the end of the game, Otzelberger turned to the same lineup (with Devin Tillis subbed out in favor of Moses Wood at power forward) for the final nine minutes, and they held on to preserve the 1-point victory.

Is this the group Otzelberger wants to ride all the way to the finish line? The two makeup games give him additional time to tinker, but he undoubtedly would prefer to go into the Mountain West tournament with a set rotation and substitution pattern. Let’s see if he sticks to a similar strategy tonight against San Diego State.

Hamilton the passer

Bryce Hamilton has struggled mightily over the last five games, averaging 17.6 points per game while making just 38.2 percent of his shots (39 of 102 FGs). UNLV could live with his inefficiency if he were distributing the ball at the same time, but Hamilton has recorded only eight assists in 163 minutes during that span.

Hamilton may not envision himself as a passer, and it may not be his preferred role, but circumstances have thrust that role upon him. UNLV simply does not have another player capable of putting the ball on the floor, putting the defense in rotation and creating gaps; only Hamilton can do it. If he doesn’t move the ball willingly against San Diego State, that defense will wall off the paint, swarm Hamilton and make his life miserable for 40 minutes (see below).

If Hamilton can come out early and hit a couple of kick-out passes that lead to 3-pointers for his teammates, that will be a great sign for the scarlet and gray.

Slugfest

Get ready for a walk-it-up, bleed-the-clock kind of game, as both UNLV and San Diego State rank among the slowest-paced teams in the country.

KenPom.com ranks San Diego State at No. 287 nationally in adjusted tempo, while UNLV checks in at No. 301. Both teams are content (and even prefer) to execute their deliberate offensive sets and shorten the game. Sometimes that type of approach can help the underdog, as fewer possessions tend to condense scoring, but SDSU has the defense to back it up.

KenPom has the Aztecs at No. 9 in terms of adjusted defense, and they are No. 7 in points per possession allowed. UNLV will have to make some tough shots and make the most of their limited possessions in order to overcome that kind of defensive dominance.

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

Article written by #LasVegasSun

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