SAN DIEGO (AP) — A couple of coaches’ sons have a pretty good rivalry going on in the Mountain West Conference, and so far, Brian Dutcher’s San Diego State Aztecs have dominated Eric Musselman’s Nevada Wolf Pack.
San Diego State stunned the No. 6 Wolf Pack 65-57 Wednesday night , shutting down Jordan Caroline, snapping the Wolf Pack’s 10-game winning streak and prompting the reinvigorated student section to rush Steve Fisher Court at Viejas Arena, which was incredibly loud and sold out for the first time this season.
Nevada has lost only five games since late last season, including falling just a basket short of reaching the Elite Eight. Three of those defeats have been to the Aztecs. No other Division I team has beaten the same ranked opponent three times during the last year.
It was the highest-ranked opponent the Aztecs have ever beaten.
“That environment was incredible,” said Dutcher, who’s in his second season as head coach after serving as Fisher’s top assistant for 18 seasons at SDSU, and whose father, Jim, coached Minnesota for 11 seasons. “It reminded me of a few years back. It was good to have the building packed liked that. We treated the crowd to an old-fashioned Aztec win. Defense and rebounding keyed it.”
By handing Nevada just its second loss, the Aztecs tightened the MWC standings and set up what should be an exciting finish to the regular season. San Diego State has won seven of eight games, mostly behind redshirt sophomore forward Jalen McDaniels but also with help from the senior backcourt of Devon Watson and Jeremy Hemsley — who led the Aztecs with 15 points each Wednesday night — and some improving freshmen.
Nevada (24-2, 12-2) still leads the MWC, followed by Utah State (21-6, 11-3), Fresno State (19-7, 10-4) and SDSU (17-9, 9-4).
The schedule-makers gave fans a huge gift: The regular season ends with Nevada hosting SDSU on March 9. Then, there could be another enticing matchup in the conference tournament, which, like last year, the Aztecs will need to win to secure an NCAA Tournament berth.
The Aztecs won nine straight games late last season to get into the NCAA tourney, including a 79-74 home win against then-No. 21 Nevada in San Diego in the regular-season finale and a 90-74 victory against the Wolf Pack six nights later in the conference tournament semifinal. That winning streak began after a blowout loss at Nevada.
The Wolf Pack’s only other loss this season was 85-58 at New Mexico on Jan. 5.
“We have to step up on a big stage and play,” said Musselman, whose late father, Bill, also coached at Minnesota as well as in the NBA. “We’ve played in front of two really great crowds at New Mexico and here and we didn’t play like we are capable of.”
Nevada, which starts five senior transfers, had won 10 straight games by an average of 22 points before running into the Aztecs’ man-to-man defense. Dutcher had Matt Mitchell, a 6-foot-6, 240-pound sophomore forward, guard the 6-7, 235-pound Caroline, who came in averaging 18.8 points and 9.8 rebounds. Caroline had only eight points and six rebounds.
“Mostly everyone we play plays zone defense,” Caroline said. “So I think their man defense affected our offense a little bit.”
The Aztecs played zone on only one baseline out-of-bounds possession.
“I just thought we had a body in front of a body,” Dutcher said. “They get downhill so well. I don’t think they got to the rim a whole lot. They were shooting a lot of shots that were 3s in front of us. I don’t know that they got a whole lot of layups and that’s what they’re good at.”
Dutcher said the Aztecs were prepared to play zone, “but the rhythm of the game was such and we were playing so well in man that we stayed with it. So maybe in Reno, maybe we’ll play 40 minutes of zone and then by the time we see them in the conference tournament, we’ll know what we want to do.”
The victory came a day after the rebuilding Padres invigorated the city by agreeing to a $300 million, 10-year contract with All-Star infielder Manny Machado. As Dutcher walked into his postgame news conference, he quipped, “Look at all this press. Is Manny Machado in here?”
Hemsley said it was the first time he’d been involved in a court-storming.
“We just want to mean something to this city and we play for the name on the front of our jerseys,” he said. “It’s an amazing feeling seeing all of those people out there rocking with you and wanting to see you do good.”
Musselman was jaw-jacking with the referees all night. At one point, official David Hall had had enough and got practically nose-to-nose with the coach.
While giving SDSU “a ton of credit,” Musselman also said: “We have to clean up a lot of stuff from tonight.”