UNLV’s losing streak against San Diego State finally came to an end Saturday afternoon.
The Runnin’ Rebels (22-4, 6-2), who blew a 13-point second half lead, needed a steal from Justin Hawkins of point guard Xavier Thames near midcourt with three seconds to go to hold off the Aztecs (20-4, 6-2) before a sellout crowd of 18,577 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The win moved UNLV back into a three-way tie for first place with the Aztecs and New Mexico (20-4, 6-2), a 48-38 winner over Wyoming Saturday, in the Mountain West Conference.
Perhaps more importantly, however, it help put Dave Rice’s squad over the hump against a San Diego State squad that has had its number the last four seasons. The Aztecs had won six in a row over UNLV, including a 69-67 decision on Jan. 14 in San Diego, and nine of the past 10 meetings.
(Story Continues Below)
“I think (beating San Diego State) is a big deal,” Rice said. “I don’t think our guys ever lost confidence in themselves or our program. Every game has been just like this, where it could have gone either way and it worked out for San Diego State. Today was our day.”
Sophomore forward Mike Moser led the way for UNLV, scoring 19 points to go along with nine rebounds, six steals and four blocks, while senior point guard Oscar Bellfield added 15 points and six assists.
“It was really big,” said Moser, whose steal of Thames led to a layup by Anthony Marshall with 37.6 seconds left for what proved to be the game-winning basket. “We wanted to get this one back because we feel like we really let one go back in San Diego. We all came out pumped up for this one.”
So did the sellout crowd led by UNLV’s “Rebellion” student section, which included rapper/reality show star Flava Flav in the second half, and raised the decibel level to heights not seen since the glory days of the Jerry Tarkanian Era.
UNLV hit just one jumper and scored only three field goals in the final 11:40. But the Rebels made up for it with strong defense.
Hawkins missed the second of two free throws with 10.4 seconds left to give the Aztecs, who were out of timeouts, a chance to at least force overtime. Jamal Franklin got the rebound and passed it to Thames who coughed up the ball while trying a crossover move near halfcourt.
“I just got back on defense and made sure he didn’t get a quick shot off,” Hawkins said of defending Thames in the final seconds. “I turned him around two or three times and I just got a steal.”