LAS VEGAS (AP) — UNLV came into its Mountain West Conference semifinal eighth in the nation in rebounding. However, they couldn’t maintain their prowess on the boards and fell short against No. 8 San Diego State.
Deville Smith led the Rebels (20-13) with 17 points, while Dejean-Jones scored 10 and Khem Birch added six points, a game-high 15 rebounds and five blocked shots in a 59-51 loss to the Aztecs on Friday night in the Mountain West Conference tournament semifinals.
San Diego State (29-3) outrebounded UNLV 34-29, including 13-6 on the offensive boards. The Aztecs also scored 12 points off turnovers.
“I thought the difference in the game was just the momentum swing when we get a defensive miss and then they get an offensive rebound,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “We’ve got to guard for another 20, 25 seconds. I can’t think of a team across the country that’s better on the offensive boards.
“I counted six or seven guys on their team today that got an offensive rebound, and if you take a look on the (stat sheet) we lose by eight and second-chance points we lose by seven, and that doesn’t tell the entire story just how tough they are on the offensive boards. They are a fantastic offensive rebounding team.”
The rebounding effort against the Rebels didn’t go unnoticed by San Diego State coach Steve Fisher.
“We put five bullet points on the board, keys to success,” Fisher said. “Rebounding was one of them. We’re a good rebounding team. Our goal every game is to rebounds half of our misses. We pursue the ball pretty effectively.
“They had 18 offensive rebounds against us at our place. They’re good, long, athletic, pursue the ball.”
San Diego State used a 19-9 run out of the break to open up a 48-33 lead with 8:13 left in the game.
The feisty Runnin’ Rebels kept it close in the first half, and made a last-minute rally, but it wasn’t enough against the quicker and defensively sound top-seeded Aztecs. Trailing 50-37 with just under six minutes left in the game, Dejean-Jones scored seven points during a 14-6 run to cut the lead to five with 48.9 seconds left in the game.
But Polee made 5 of 6 free throws down the stretch to seal the Aztecs’ win.
Xavier Thames added 17 and six assists for the Aztecs, who will face New Mexico or Boise State in the title game on Saturday.
And while San Diego State is assuredly headed to the NCAA tournament, the loss dealt a severe blow to UNLV’s chances of making it for a fifth consecutive year.