UNLV falls to San Diego State

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Within an hour of tip-off Sunday afternoon inside the Thomas & Mack Center, UNLV and San Diego State players, like everyone else in the world, heard about the tragic death of Kobe Bryant.  

“Very sad,” said Bryce Hamilton, UNLV’s sophomore guard from Pasadena, Calif. “Condolences to his family. We did have a big game, so I was trying to focus on that.”

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The Rebels had a mighty task in front of them, against the fourth-ranked team in the nation to which UNLV had dropped nine of its past 10 meetings. Hamilton exhibited a Mamba-like effort, in leading everyone with 29 points and 10 rebounds.  

However, a superior team effort was produced, once again, by the Aztecs, whose 71-67 victory before an announced crowd of 12,287 produced the first 21-0 start in the program’s 99-year history.

“That is an élite San Diego State team,” said first-year Rebels coach T.J. Otzelberger. “We had to play our best to win. Offensively, [the Aztecs] don’t turn the ball over. Defensively, they’re always in the right place at the right time; so sound, over and over and over.”

The Aztecs built a 10-point lead in the first half, but the Rebels toughened. They took their third lead of the second half on a 3-point shot by Elijah Mitrou-Long with 11:50 remaining.

Malachi Flynn answered with a layup for SDSU, a four-minute drought ensued and junior guard Trey Pulliam became an unlikely hero for the Aztecs. He hit a pair of free throws, then drilled a 3-point shot from the left corner for an advantage, at 50-45, that he and his teammates would not yield.

Pulliam had never scored in double figures, but he tallied 18 points against UNLV. Malachi Flynn led SDSU with 21 points, and Jordan Schakel added 11.

“We see that every day in practice,” Schakel said of Pulliam’s outburst. “He’s a killer. He made some huge shots for us.”

Junior forward Matt Mitchell, who chipped in with eight points for the Aztecs, said Pulliam found opportunities to be aggressive and he took advantage of them. He also said SDSU didn’t prepare for any specific tactics against UNLV at either end.

“It’s the same every time; we’re playing our game,” Mitchell said. “We don’t see a ceiling for us.” 

Schakel was wearing a white T-shirt bearing a red map of the U.S., with a San Diego State logo in the middle, a recent social-media trend that counted down the nation’s last undefeated teams, until only San Diego State was left without a loss. 

Over the past two months, only San Diego State and Duke have appeared twice a week among a list of the nation’s top-10-percentile programs in both offense and defensive efficiency.   

UNLV hit six 3-point shots, to SDSU’s three, but neither had much of a shooting advantage as the Rebels made 43.6-percent of their attempts, to the Aztecs’ 41.8 percent. UNLV had averaged 89.7 points in its past three games, fourth-best in the country over that span.

“I thought this would be a tough game for us,” Schakel said. “They’re an aggressive offensive rebounding team, but I think we did an all-right job. We fought ‘til the end.” 

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About the Author

Rob Miech

Veteran sportswriter Rob Miech covers soccer and does features for Gaming Today. He has written about college hoops for the Las Vegas Sun, CBS SportsLine and the Pasadena Star-News. He is the author of four books, including Sports Betting for Winners.

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