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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE BASKETBALL

Even as D.J. Gay misses, he gives Aztecs a shot

The San Diego State guard is mired in a shooting slump, but he's still the go-to guy in pressure situations.

March 18, 2011|Chris Dufresne
  • San Diego State point guard D.J. Gay gets the offense in gear with a pass to the wing against Northern Colorado on Thursday in a second-round game of the NCAA tournament.
San Diego State point guard D.J. Gay gets the offense in gear with a pass to… (Mark J. Rebilas / US Presswire )

Reporting from Tucson

D.J. Gay is having the time of his life and the slump of his life.

It's not an oxymoron when you are making school history as the team's lead basketball guard.

San Diego State, by defeating Northern Colorado on Thursday for its first NCAA win, earned a third-round try against Temple on Saturday.

Gay is driving the Aztecs despite shooting 26.9% in his last nine games. That's 21 baskets in his last 78 shots. He was two for 11 against Northern Colorado.

Yet San Diego State is progressing nicely despite Gay's lack of scoring.

He is still doing things coaches notice.

"I'm looking at Gay's statistics," Temple Coach Fran Dunphy said Friday. "They're ridiculous."

Dunphy wasn't talking about Gay going 0 for 3 in 34 minutes last week in a Mountain West Conference win over Brigham Young.

In his last 17 games, a span covering 628 minutes, Gay has 54 assists against only 16 turnovers. He went 177 consecutive minutes at one point this season without turning the ball over.

You want more "ridiculous"?

Gay has committed only 29 fouls while averaging 34.8 minutes in 35 starts.

"How can that be for all the minutes [1,217] he played?" Dunphy wondered.

It's a mistake to think that the shooting slump isn't bothering Gay, though.

"It's a little frustrating," he said. "But at the end of the day it's about the team and whatever you need to do to win."

How would you like to be a slumping shooter and have Reggie Miller, one of the all-time great shooters, providing the color analysis for your family and the Turner (TV) family?

Miller, the former UCLA and Indiana Pacers' star, was at the McKale Center on Friday gathering information in advance of Saturday's games. He had one simple snippet of advice for Gay.

"Continue to shoot," Miller said. "You can't have any conscience. You can't even think about it."

Gay smiled when Miller's words were relayed to him. "That's kind of been my thought the whole time," he said. "To hear that is reassuring."

Also comforting is that Gay's struggles are being absorbed by a well-balanced team that doesn't need any one player to dominate.

"He doesn't have to shoot his way out of a slump," Aztecs assistant coach Brian Dutcher said. "That's the beauty of this team. One guy for us doesn't have to feel pressure to put numbers up."

Gay's slump has barely caused a ripple in the locker room.

He is still considered the go-to guy in pressure situations and Coach Steve Fisher calls Gay the most important player on his team.

Star players, we know, are fearless.

Temple guard Juan Fernandez, who will oppose Gay in Saturday's game, followed a three-for-17 effort in a loss to Richmond last week with a 21-point outburst in Thursday's first-round win against Penn State. Fernandez hit the game winning shot in the final seconds.

What about that bad game? "You can't go back and play it again," Fernandez said.

Likewise, the clock in Gay's head only goes forward.

He was two for eight last week before hitting the game winner against Nevada Las Vegas in a Mountain West Conference tournament game.

The difference with Gay, a senior, is he recognizes when he's not shooting well and then defers to his teammates.

"He's not a freshman who needs 17 shots to realize he's in a shooting slump," Dutcher said.

Gay's teammates stand resolutely behind their leader.

"Even when he's had poor shooting nights, he hits shots that have mattered," teammate James Rahon said.

Gay is taking extra practice shots in an effort to get that feeling back.

Is it mechanical or mental?

"It can be one or the other but usually it's mental," he said. "When you start thinking it doesn't feel good you start overanalyzing your shot and that's the worst thing you can do.

"I'm going to keep shooting the ball."

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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