Fourth-ranked San Diego State can break a pair of school records when it goes for a 21st consecutive victory Sunday afternoon in Las Vegas against UNLV in a battle of the top two teams in the Mountain West Conference standings.
The Aztecs (20-0, 9-0 MW), the nation’s only unbeaten team, tied their school record for best start to a season and also for consecutive wins with a 72-55 victory over visiting Wyoming on Tuesday. They equaled the mark first set by the 2010-11 squad — led by Kawhi Leonard — that finished 34-3 and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, where it lost to eventual national champion UConn 74-67.
The 20-game winning streak, also a Mountain West record, was tied by the 2013-14 Aztecs squad that finished 31-5 and also advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, where it lost to Arizona 70-64.
“This team has its own identity and its own goals,” San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher, an assistant to Steve Fisher on both of those squads, said when asked about tying the 2010-11 squad for best start. “It feels good … but they don’t hang banners for being 20-0, only for conference championships. We’re trying to win a Mountain West title. That’s our goal right now.”
“Yes, it’s good,” added guard Malachi Flynn, who leads the team in scoring (16.5 points per game), assists (5.1 per game) and steals (1.8 per game). “It’s good just to realize that we are up there with arguably the best team here, but like we’ve said previously, they didn’t stop there. They went on to a Sweet Sixteen, so we got a lot more work to do to even be in the conversation with that team still. So, we’re going to take it just one game at a time.”
To break the record, the Aztecs will have to defeat the second-place Runnin’ Rebels (11-10, 6-2) on the road, something that might not be as difficult as it first appears.
The Thomas & Mack Center has been a second home for San Diego State since the 2008-09 season. The Aztecs have rolled up 14 victories over UNLV there, the national high for a road team against a lone opponent in that span. They also have advanced to the Mountain West tournament title game at Las Vegas in nine of the past 11 seasons, winning it in 2010, 2011 and 2018.
The Aztecs, who once trailed the all-time series against the Runnin’ Rebels 26-6 during the Jerry Tarkanian era, are 30-10 against UNLV in the last 40 meetings to even the series 36-36. San Diego State has won 15 of the past 16 meetings with UNLV, including a 63-55 victory in last year’s Mountain West quarterfinals.
This will be the first time the Aztecs have faced a T.J. Otzelberger-coached UNLV team however. Otzelberger, who led South Dakota State to a pair of Summit League titles in three seasons as head coach there, took over head-coaching duties for the Runnin’ Rebels this season for the fired Marvin Menzies.
UNLV sputtered to a 4-8 start to its season but has rebounded to win seven of nine games, including a home victory over Mountain West preseason favorite Utah State 70-53 on Jan. 1.
The Runnin’ Rebels come in off an 86-72 loss at in-state rival Nevada on Wednesday, when they shot just 35.8 percent, including seven of 25 from 3-point range. Nevada, meanwhile, connected on 11 of 26 3-point attempts (42.3 percent).
“(We were) a step behind on defense,” guard Amauri Hardy, who leads the team in scoring at 15.1 points per game, told the Las Vegas Sun. “A step behind on coverages. We just came out flat.”
–Field Level Media