LAS VEGAS — Nevada was one of several teams in Division I that had not suffered a double-digit loss all season.
That changed Friday night in the Mountain West semifinals, as the Wolf Pack was pounded, 90-73, by red-hot San Diego State at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Nevada fell to 27-7 overall heading into the postseason. San Diego State, which won its eighth straight, improved to 21-10.
“We lost,” said Nevada coach Eric Musselman. “They played better than us. We had obviously our worst outing of the year and not at a good time. Having said that, we’re not a team that lost three out of four or anything like that.
“We played an entire season of college basketball and were a ranked team for five weeks, whatever, the last five weeks, and seven total weeks. We’ve had an incredible season and we didn’t play very good tonight. We played against a good team that I think is extremely talented.”
Nevada led the game for barely over a minute, and the rest of the time it belonged to San Diego State.
“You’ve got to be ready to play when the ball goes up in the air from the jump,” Hallice Cooke said. “And tonight we didn’t do that. We kept fighting hard. We didn’t start playing really hard until the second half, and we were already down 30. And you can’t make up for that many points in 20 minutes.”
The first half was the worst of the season for the Wolf Pack, which trailed 55-25. The 25 points was the second-fewest of the season. Nevada scored 24 in the first half at San Jose State. The 55 points was the most Nevada has allowed in a half all season, and it was a season-best for the Aztecs. The 55 points also set a MW record. The 30-point bulge was also the second-largest in tournament history.
The Aztecs came out shooting and defending, and Nevada never had an answer, especially in the first 20 minutes.
The Aztecs had several huge scoring runs to take the 30-point lead, shooting 61 percent, including 47 percent from beyond the arc. Nevada managed just 38 percent. Rebounding was a huge factor, as SDSU turned a 19-7 first-half rebound edge into 14 second-chance points.
With 15:58 left, the Aztecs led just 13-9, but went on a 10-0 run. Devin Watson, who scored 14 in the first half, knocked down two 3-pointers.
“They kept going under me (defensively),” Watson said. “So as they kept going under me I just had to be aggressive and take my shot and they went in. Just being aggressive and taking what they gave me.”
After Nevada scored, the Aztecs promptly went on a 13-2 run to extend the lead to 38-16 with 6:19 left in the half. Malik Pope had two buckets, Watson added another three and Matt Mitchell banged in a 3.
San Diego State closed out the half with a 12-3 run, seven of the points coming at the line, two from Josh McDaniels after Musselman was hit with a technical foul.
“You know when you start making shots like that, the basket gets as big as the ocean,” said SDSU coach Brian Dutcher. “And, when that happens, everything seems to be good. Devin started us. They ducked under some ball screens and he made some early 3s. Obviously we did a good job sharing the ball.
The Aztecs had 17 assists on 28 baskets, and looked Nevada-like the way they moved the ball.
“We let them get easy shots; get into a rhythm early” Jordan Caroline said. “If you let them get into a rhythm early, they are going to hit some shots that they normally wouldn’t hit.”
“I thought San Diego State came out from the get-go the first half and played phenomenal basketball,” Musselman said. “We didn’t defend like we’re capable of in the first half.”
Nevada played much harder in the second half, but San Diego State kept its 30-point lead for the first 10 minutes. A 3-pointer by Cooke trimmed the lead to 29, and the Pack kept chipping away until the end of the game.
“Really it was just listening to the coaching staff and sticking to the game plan,” San Diego State freshman Matt Mitchell said. “Knowing they were going to come out harder in the second half than they did in the first half. We wanted to keep getting stops, keep rebounding, playing hard and just finish the game out.”
“I don’t want to take anything away from San Diego State, but we were bad tonight and they were really, really good,” Musselman said. “That is why you see the difference in 55-25 at halftime. Having said that, our guys did not quit in the second half. We outscored them in the second half by 13 or whatever.”