D.J. does it again

by Agustin Gonzalez

Gay nails the game-winning shot. Courtesy of Antonio Zaragoza.

LAS VEGAS — Minutes after San Diego State beat UNLV in the semifinal of the Mountain West Conference Tournament, SDSU fans were chanting, “We want Jimmer! We want Jimmer!”

Well, it looks like they’ll get what they want.

D.J. Gay hit the game-winning shot with six seconds left and Kawhi Leonard had a big night (18 points, eight rebounds) as the Aztecs took down UNLV 74-72 in a back-and-forth battle at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

“This is vintage, typical San Diego State-UNLV,” SDSU head coach Steve Fisher said. “We’ve had games like this time after time after time … We made just enough plays keyed by defense, keyed by everybody staying alert and involved. Once again, at the end of the game D.J. found a way to make a play.”

After trailing by 10 points at halftime, the Rebels battled back and took their first lead of the second half on a couple of free throws by Chace Stanback with 2:53 left to play. Both teams went back and forth until the Aztecs’ Malcolm Thomas hit a pair of clutch freebies to tie the game at 72.

“I missed a few (free throws) earlier,” Thomas said. “I was kind of thinking about it. But when I think about missing, I usually miss. So I just went to my usual routine. I thought about my family, and it dropped.”

With 35 seconds left, UNLV had a chance to pull ahead. Rebels’ head coach Lon Kruger designed a play to have Tre’Von Willis set a back screen for Stanback. Willis set the screen, Stanback spotted an open Oscar Bellfield, passed the ball … and had it stolen by SDSU’s Chase Tapley.

“Coach drew up a play for Tre (Willis) to set a back screen,” Stanback said. “I was supposed to throw it up, just wasn’t high enough … It was very disappointing. But, I mean, that’s the way the game goes. Sometimes the ball just doesn’t bounce your way.”

Tied at 72, and with memories of the last-second victory against Colorado State earlier this season in Aztec fans’ minds, the scene was set for Gay’s late-game heroics. The senior point guard called for a ball screen and faked right. The Rebels bit on the fake, so Gay went left and put up a floater in the lane that found the bottom of the basket.

“This time around I wanted the ball in my hands once again,” Gay said. “I just had to make a read whether I was to give it up or take the open shot. I saw a little open space and I just took it.”

The Aztecs are set to take on top-seeded BYU and Jimmer Fredette, who scored an awe-inspiring 52 points in the Cougars victory against New Mexico, in the championship today.

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