One of the greatest attributes of Steve Fisher’s San Diego State Aztecs is their length, and its something the nation’s tenth-ranked team has put to good use on both ends of the floor for much of this season. Offensively, with guard Xavier Thames and forward Winston Shepard III leading the way, San Diego State consistently attacks the paint and more often than not creates a quality look as a result.
Defensively they’re an incredibly difficult team to crack, with their length and shot-blocking ability resulting in many teams looking downright inept in their quest to score points. And with San Diego State struggling on the offensive end against UNLV, who had won the last three meetings in the series, it was their defense that made the difference in the 63-52 victory.
The Aztecs shot just 34% on the night but UNLV was even worse, shooting 30% for the game with their first-half performance digging a hole that proved too deep to crawl out of. The Runnin’ Rebels, fresh off of their best outing on the season (a win at New Mexico on Wednesday night), opened the game shooting 4-for-27 from the field and trailed by as many as 15 points in the first half.
UNLV may not always have the best shot selection regardless of the opponent, but the fact of the matter is that they were kept from doing anything comfortably by San Diego State’s aggressive half-court defense. Dave Rice’s team managed to pull within five points with just under six minutes remaining, but two consecutive exchanges served as a reminder of the difference in offensive discipline between the two teams.
With a chance to pull even closer UNLV forced bad shots on consecutive possessions, only to have San Diego State go to the other end and get dunks from Skylar Spencer and Josh Davis (14 points, 14 rebounds). The Aztecs rebounded 46.2% of their misses and scored 19 second-chance points, which helped make up for their poor shooting night. San Diego State may not have the “prettiest” offense at times, but their commitment to doing what they do best (attack the paint) more than makes up for that.
That’s something UNLV is still struggling with, although they did show greater effort in their two games this week than in disappointing losses to Air Force and Nevada the week prior.
Thames scored 18 points but he struggled from the field (3-for-14 FG), and Shepard accounted for just six points on 2-for-6 shooting. But due to their ability to make things incredibly difficult for opponents with their defense, the Aztecs are built to survive off nights on the other end.