SDSU again standing in way of No. 14 Nevada
After three straight losses to its nemesis, 14th-ranked Nevada has a chance to beat San Diego State twice in one week. And a second win could end the Aztecs' season.
In a rematch of a Mountain West Conference tournament semifinal from a season ago, Nevada (29-3) will face San Diego State (20-12) on Friday in this year's conference tournament semis in Las Vegas.
The Wolf Pack beat Boise State and San Diego State took care of UNLV in quarterfinal games on Thursday to set up the rematch.
Rewind to last year when Nevada was the No. 1 seed in the tournament. The Aztecs were the No. 5 seed. The Aztecs blew out the then-No. 22 Wolf Pack 90-73 in the tournament semis, Devin Watson scoring 20 points and Jalen McDaniels adding 17 points and 12 rebounds.
This year, Nevada is again the top seed and San Diego State is seeded fourth. And McDaniels knows what kind of effort it will take for the Aztecs to win again.
"We gotta come out and play hard, play harder than them," McDaniels told the media after Thursday's 63-55 win over the Rebels. "They're a great team. We have to execute on offense and defense. ... We have to give it all on every play."
The Wolf Pack were embarrassed last season and, for a team that never seems to get rattled, they certainly were out of their comfort zone.
Boise State made the Wolf Pack uncomfortable most of Thursday, as well. A sluggish first-half led to a 15-point deficit before Nevada pulled away 77-69.
"We stunk for 12 minutes. It was hard to watch," Nevada coach Eric Musselman said after the game. "I would have rather gone to the dentist and gotten some teeth pulled than watch us on both sides of the ball."
Most of the time Caleb Martin, Cody Martin and Jordan Caroline get the accolades. But if it weren't for Jazz Johnson and Tre'shawn Thurman, Musselman would have been in some real pain.
Johnson came off the bench to score 20 points on 5-for-7 shooting from 3-point range. Thurman added 17 points. Neither played in last season's tournament loss to San Diego State and Musselman is expecting strong contributions from both.
"We don't come close to winning today without these two guys, not playing good, but playing great. They did it at the end of the year against San Diego State when he had to win to get the No. 1 seed," Musselman said.
In that 81-53 win on March 9 in Reno, Johnson and Thurman combined for 13 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Caleb Martin had one of his best games of the season recording 25 points, six boards and seven assists.
That win snapped a three-game skid against the Aztecs that began with a loss on March 3, 2018. The tournament blowout followed and then on Feb. 20, Watson and McDaniels haunted the Wolf Pack again in a 66-57 win. Watson tossed in 15, McDaniels added 10.
"That environment was incredible," Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher said after that game. "Reminded me of a few years back. I think we treated the crowd to an old-fashioned Aztecs win: Defense and rebounding keyed it."
The Aztecs are confident history can repeat itself and they can retain their mastery over Nevada.
"You've got to be extremely mentally tough," guard Jeremy Hemsley told the San Diego Union-Tribune before Thursday's win over UNLV. "But I think this team's more than capable of ... winning three games in a row."
--Field Level Media
Updated March 15, 2019