SAN DIEGO — As Coach Smokey Gaines smoked a victory cigarette Saturday afternoon, he reflected on what might have suddenly gotten into San Diego State point guard Creon Dorsey.
Gaines figured he had lit a spark under Dorsey by not starting him for the last two games. It seemed as if it was a good theory because Dorsey had 16 points, 12 assists and 7 rebounds in leading the Aztecs past Hawaii, 80-70, in front of 1,506 fans at the Sports Arena.
But Dorsey had a different reason for his resurgence.
"I'd like to dedicate my performance to Bobby Owens," Dorsey said. "I'm playing for both of us right now."
Until a week ago, Owens also was playing for the Aztecs. However, he quit the team when criticized in the aftermath of a 59-58 loss to Utah.
At a team meeting six days ago, Gaines informed seniors Dorsey and Owens they were being replaced in the starting lineup by freshmen. Owens, who Gaines criticized for poor shooting, never again practiced with the team.
Dorsey kept practicing and has "worked real hard" the past week, Gaines said.
"Since the meeting, Creon has had some good practices," Gaines said. "We were trying to get some spark into the team. All coaches make changes to get some spark. We definitely need leadership out there."
Dorsey was supposed to be the leader all along, but Gaines did not think he was responding. That's why freshman Tracy Dildy has started at point guard the last two games.
After Saturday's game, Gaines said it was uncertain who would start at point guard when SDSU plays host to United States International University Thursday night.
Dorsey attributed his performance against Hawaii to a long talk he had the night before with Owens. The two had not spoken since Owens left.
"Bobby said he had been here four years and deserved more respect, which he does," Dorsey said. "He's too good of a ballplayer and man to let this get him down. I still respect Bobby as a ballplayer and man because he's my friend. He always told me to give him the ball because he was ready."
When Dorsey entered the game Saturday with 12:45 left in the first half, the Aztecs trailed 16-11. They led 37-30 when he departed with four minutes left in the half. Shortly after Dorsey returned in the second half, SDSU went from a 47-47 tie to a 61-51 lead.
"I've got little time to do my thing coming off the bench," Dorsey said. "That means I'm coming out with a vengeance. Other teams may say I'm just talking, but they're in trouble."
Dorsey was not the only Aztec who troubled hapless Hawaii, which has lost 20 of 21 games.
Steffond Johnson tied the Rainbows' Keith Turner for scoring honors with 18 points. Johnson also had a game-high 12 rebounds. Darryl Gaines, the coach's son, had a season-high 15 points. And Josh Lowery scored 11 points, the first time he has been in double figures in 10 games.
After Hawaii had led for most of the first half, Gaines put SDSU ahead, 27-24, on a three-point play off an assist from Dorsey. During SDSU's game-winning run midway through the second half, Gaines scored six points, including a rebound dunk.
After Hawaii scored seven straight second-half points to tie the game, 47-47, Lowery helped SDSU take the lead for good with a 21-foot jumper and reverse layup on consecutive possessions.
Smokey Gaines said the team's youth movement is an attempt to restore confidence in younger players such as his son and Lowery.
"I guess my confidence was down a little," Lowery said. "This is going to help me for next year. Then, I'll know how the WAC plays."
Hawaii, the WAC's worst team, is 1-13 in conference and 4-21 overall. The Rainbows' only victory since December came last month in overtime against SDSU, 83-80, at Hawaii. The Aztecs are 7-7 and 8-16.
Aztec Notes Anthony Watson was in danger of not scoring in double figures for the first time in 26 games Saturday. He had two points with 5 1/2 minutes remaining but finished with 11 before fouling out. . . . Senior forward John Martens did not score in the game. Martens, who was benched for the last 16:49, took only one shot in 10 minutes. . . . Freshman Kevin Brown had 10 rebounds, tying his second-best mark of the season.