San Diego State got another strong performance from D.J. Gay and remained tied atop the Mountain West. The Aztecs’ next opponent knows just how tough it is to defend the senior point guard.
Gay had a career-best scoring performance last month against New Mexico, and he’ll try to top it in the rematch at Viejas Arena on Wednesday night.
Gay scored 20 points and hit three late free throws to help No. 6 San Diego State hold on for a 63-57 win at UNLV on Saturday. The Aztecs (25-1, 10-1) led by as many as 12 in the first half but trailed by one with three minutes to go, then allowed two points after that.
“To play a game down to the wire like this is very important. It’s something we’re expecting down the road,” said Gay, who played all 40 minutes despite rolling his ankle.
Thanks to its point guard, San Diego State didn’t have to go down to the wire in its trip to The Pit on Jan. 15. Gay hit a career-high seven 3-pointers and scored 30 points in an 87-77 win over New Mexico.
After that game, Aztecs coach Steve Fisher called Gay the team’s “most important player.”
“He’s proven that he’s been that and then some every stretch of the way,” Fisher said Monday. “He’s so reliable, never gets ruffled under the stress of the moment and has a comfort level now that when he has that ball he’s going to make a decision that’s good for us.”
Fisher’s team could use another strong performance from Gay as it tries to move ahead of idle BYU for the top spot in the conference.
San Diego State is seeking its eighth win in 10 home games against the Lobos, who shared the Mountain West title in 2008-09 and won it outright last season. The Aztecs have won nine of 12 overall matchups, including a 72-69 upset of then-No. 8 New Mexico in last season’s conference tournament.
The Lobos had a four-game winning streak snapped in a 68-62 loss at Colorado State on Saturday. New Mexico (17-8, 5-5) matched its lowest point total in conference play this season, though it cut an 18-point deficit to three with 27 seconds left.
“The second half was the breakout for us,” coach Steve Alford told the school’s official website. “The last 20 minutes is the way we are capable of playing. It’s unfortunate we didn’t get 40 minutes of it tonight.”
After averaging 7.8 points during the win streak, leading scorer Dairese Gary (12.9 ppg) had 16 on Saturday. Freshman guard Kendall Williams scored 16 points for the third time in four games.
Gary had 23 points Jan. 15 and has averaged 17.5 over the last four meetings with San Diego State. Drew Gordon added a career-best 23 points and 14 rebounds for New Mexico in the last matchup.
The Aztecs’ Kawhi Leonard scored 19 points and added 15 rebounds for his third consecutive double-double against the Lobos.
San Diego State took the last home matchup 74-64 on Jan. 5, 2010 behind Malcolm Thomas’ 18 points and 15 boards.
The Aztecs have won 17 straight and 40 of 42 at Viejas.