San Diego State’s fate was in their own hands Wednesday, as coach Brian Dutcher put it, and the Aztecs took full advantage, beating UNLV 71-62 to win their second straight Mountain West title.
SDSU won their 11th in a row to secure back-to-back regular season championships for the first time since beginning Division I play in 1970. They also captured their eighth conference title.
With the win, the Aztecs have a week off until they play March 11 as the top seed in the Mountain West Tournament – then in all likelihood, the NCAA Tournament.
“The most meaningful basketball is still ahead of us and that’s the most important and exciting thing about this season, that we have meaningful games to play together as a team,” Dutcher said.
It wasn’t easy though. UNLV played San Diego State tight for most of the first half, and took a 23-21 lead with just over five minutes to play.
The Aztecs, though, gave themselves breathing room in the closing minutes. Jordan Schakel, despite nursing a sore back, hit a three-pointer to put his team back ahead, and Matt Mitchell stole the ball from guard Nick Blake seconds later for a dunk that gave the Aztecs a 26-23 lead.
The Runnin’ Rebels tied it again at 28, but Schakel added another three and two free throws – Adam Seiko went to the line too and made both his shots – to give the Aztecs a seven-point advantage going into the break.
San Diego State opened the second half on a 7-0 run, with another three by Schakel and layups from Mitchell and Nathan Mensah. They extended the lead to 17 at one point, but UNLV never closed the gap to less than eight the rest of the game.
Mitchell finished with 19 and Shackel with 16, while Mensah added 14. UNLV’s David Jenkins Jr. scored 32, more than the rest of his team combined.
For now, Dutcher is happy to give his banged-up team – it’s not just Schakel’s back, but Mitchell’s ankle and Aguek Arop’s vertigo – a rest. He said they’ll probably have Thursday and Friday off, with the goal of having “fresh legs as we move into tournament play.”