Ryan Greene

Mistake-free D.J. Gay emerging as San Diego State's rock

Ryan Greene
The Dagger

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LAS VEGAS — A month ago, when UNLV and San Diego State first met, the Aztecs still had the look of a team trying to prove to the nation that it was deserving of its lofty ranking.

By the time the second meeting rolled around on Saturday evening, sixth-ranked SDSU had the air of a team that knew it belonged.

And despite being hampered by injuries, limited by foul trouble and connecting on just one field goal attempt in the final 9:50 of Saturday's game, Steve Fisher's club finished like a team worthy of its ranking in a 53-47 win at UNLV.

In improving to 25-1, it acted like one, too.

"We are a better team than we were the last time we played UNLV," senior guard D.J. Gay said. "I feel like we've definitely gotten better and we're going to continue to get better."

SDSU is now 9-1 in league play, tied atop the standings with BYU, who it will host in San Diego on Feb. 26 in the first MWC game ever broadcast nationally on CBS.

The Aztecs returned all five starters from a team that won the MWC tournament last season. They feature one of the nation's top front-courts, lead by Kawhi Leonard, who is a likely going to be a first round NBA draft pick this June.

But the difference between last season and this one is the on-court maturation of Gay.

Every elite team planning on a lengthy NCAA tournament run needs a strong lead guard. It needs a reliable floor general.

Last year, Gay was asked to take over as the team's point guard following the graduation of long-time starter Richie Williams. In his first seasn, while trying to fully grasp all that came with the gig, Gay was inconsistent.

Now, after getting the lumps out of the way, it looks natural on him.

While Leonard and the bigs do most of the heavy lifting for SDSU, Gay is plugging in the holes.

On Saturday, he played a full 40 minutes for the fifth time this season, despite suffering a sprained ankle during the contest. Gay scored a game-high 20 points, hit several crucial mid-range jumpers and, above all else, didn't commit a turnover.

In fact, he's only registered one giveaway in SDSU's last seven games.

Let that stat soak in for a second.

"He is a senior that has been around that knows how to play — He doesn't get rattled under any circumstance," SDSU coach Steve Fisher said. "If you watch him, you never see him go bananas if something good or bad happens. He has that wherewithal to maintain focus that all good players are able to do.

"In addition, he makes plays that win. He made big-time plays for us time after time. He is an MVP-type player. He is someone who says little and does a lot. There is no team in America that would not want D.J. Gay on their team. I am glad we have him on ours."

In less than two years on the job, Gay has become the best pure point in the Mountain West.

His play is also going to determine how far SDSU goes in March.

Ryan Greene covers UNLV and the Mountain West Conference for the Las Vegas Sun. Read his Rebels coverage and follow him on Twitter.

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