Rebels Lose Heartbreaker
San Diego State’s D.J. Gay made a driving floater with just over four seconds left to give the Aztecs a 74-72 win over UNLV in the Mountain West Conference Tournament semifinals Friday night before a sellout crowd at the Thomas & Mack Center. The win improved San Diego State to 31-2 and kept them alive for a second straight MWC Tournament title. After Gay’s shot broke the tie, the Runnin’ Rebels (24-8) had a final chance with no time outs left, but Tre’Von Willis missed a desperation three-point heave as the clock expired. Prior to Gay’s game-winner, UNLV had the ball with the score tied at 72, but Oscar Bellfield’s lob pass to Chace Stanback was tipped away and stolen by the Aztecs.
The vocal crowd was nearly split evenly between UNLV and San Diego State fans, and they were treated to a thrilling back-and-forth contest. The Aztecs broke out to a 10-point lead in the first half, but UNLV’s Chace Stanback singlehandedly got the Rebels back in it with a 12-point flurry in a span of three minutes to give UNLV a brief one-point lead. However, San Diego State managed to push the margin back to 10 at the half, 44-34. In the second half, the Rebels used a more aggressive approach to force turnovers and get to the free throw line, and it worked. UNLV finally broke through for its first lead since the first half at 68-66 with under two minutes to go. The Rebels again led 72-70 with under a minute to go, but couldn’t hold on.
For the second straight night, UNLV was led by the scoring tandem of Stanback and Willis. Stanback finished with a game-high 22 points, and Willis had 19. The Rebels were also lights out at the charity stripe, hitting 17-of-18 free throws including 15-of-16 in the second half. The Aztecs had four players in double figures, led by the 18 points and eight rebounds of Kawhi Leonard.
The Rebels have now lost five straight meetings with the Aztecs, including all three this season. It’s also the second straight year San Diego State has eliminated UNLV in the Mountain West Tournament, as the Aztecs beat the Rebels 53-45 in the championship game last year. San Diego State advanced to play top-seed BYU in the championship game, while UNLV will find out Sunday where it’s playing in the NCAA Tournament.