SDSU Mountain West NCAA
Matt Mitchell makes a shot against UNLV, but cold shooting doomed the Aztecs Saturday. Photo credit: @Aztec_MBB via Twitter

This week, Yanni Wetzell called San Diego State’s remarkable season “an unreal run.” Saturday the unbeaten portion of that run came to an end as UNLV handed the No. 4 Aztecs their first defeat of the season,  66-63.

SDSU, at 26-0, celebrated their Mountain West championship, raising the banner before the game. That though was their highlight for the day, despite a furious comeback attempt against UNLV in the final two minutes.

Matt Mitchell took a desperation half-court shot at the buzzer to try to force the game into overtime, but it fell short.

“The moment wasn’t too big for us,” UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger told the CBS Sports Network after the game.

UNLV, 15-14 for the year, played the Aztecs the tightest in the past two months, losing by only four, 71-67 on Jan. 26. They had won three of four games going into the SDSU game, and quickly took charge Saturday.

UNLV rode to a 12-point lead at the half, 37-25, dominating the floor except for foul trouble by Amauri Hardy and Cheikh Mbacke Diong.

It was the largest deficit at the half for SDSU in Mountain West play this season, and just the second time in conference games that the Aztecs found themselves behind by 10 or more.

San Diego State was dogged by six turnovers and poor shooting in the first half. For more than eight minutes they scored no field goals, their only offense coming from free throws by Malachi Flynn, Mitchell and Wetzell.

Shots by Flynn bracketed the drought, a three-pointer and a jumper at the 3:32 mark.

The Runnin’ Rebels stretched the lead to 14 in the second half, and the Aztecs cut it in half, but could not maintain a sustained run until the half wound down.

Thanks to a three-pointer by Flynn, they pulled within a point of the lead with 14 seconds left in the game, but UNLV’s Elijah MitrouLong made four free throws down the stretch. A key defensive lapse by Mitchell hampered the Aztecs as well.

Ultimately, San Diego State could not overcome cold shooting for much of the game, as even on-target shots wouldn’t fall.

Mitchell called the loss “a reality check that we’re not invincible.”

Saturday became a day of shifts among top-ranked teams, as, in addition to the SDSU loss, No. 1 Baylor lost to No. 3 Kansas, 64-61.

SDSU plays their final home game of the season against Colorado State at 8 p.m. Tuesday, then wraps up their regular season at Nevada at 5 p.m. Feb. 29. 

– Staff reports