ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Coach Steve Fisher is almost ready to say it: smooth-shooting point guard D.J. Gay is San Diego State's best player.
Gay scored a career-high 30 points, Kawhi Leonard had 19 points and 15 rebounds and No. 6 San Diego State beat New Mexico 87-77 on Saturday night to remain one of the nation's four unbeaten teams.
Fisher said he has maintained all season that Gay is arguably the team's most important player.
``I somewhat qualified it, probably making him mad, saying he's not our best player but he's our most important player,' Fisher said. ``He's inching up to not only be our most important player but our best player. He was fantastic. He plays with no fear, no agenda.'
Chase Tapley added 15 points and the Aztecs (19-0, 4-0 Mountain West) made 13 of 25 from 3-point range to win for the fourth time in their last six visits to The Pit and extend the country's longest active win streak to a school-record 19 games.
``We've had some good fortune here,' Fisher said. ``We've gotten a little lucky at times, but today was not luck. We were very, very good at both ends of the floor.'
Here's some tough news for the Mountain West's other contenders: San Diego State has played three of its first four league games on the road.
The Lobos (13-5, 1-2) got an outstanding effort from UCLA transfer Drew Gordon, who had a career-high 23 points and 14 rebounds in his ninth game since becoming eligible last month. But it wasn't enough, as the Aztecs snapped New Mexico's 16-game home winning streak.
Coach Steve Alford, who lost only his fourth league home game with the Lobos, said it was ``pick your poison' in whether to stop San Diego State's potent inside game or check the Aztecs on the perimeter. The plan was to play tough inside defense, and Gay and Tapley stepped up.
``We did our job stopping them inside,' Gordon said. ``They came with the heat from outside.'
Dairese Gary added 23 points, but a young Lobos squad doomed itself with a sloppy first half and shot a season-low 39 percent from the field. Phillip McDonald, coming off a career-high 27 points in a victory over Colorado State, scored six points, all on free throws, and shot 0 for 5 from the floor.
Gay was smooth, shooting 7 of 11 from 3-point range.
The Aztecs trailed 13-6 early but took control with a 12-0 run midway through the first half. Gay scored their last 12 points of the opening half, all on 3-pointers, including a 55-footer he swished at the horn to give San Diego State a 37-29 lead.
Last year at The Pit, Gay scored 25 points, his previous career best, but the Aztecs lost a tough one. Gay was fouled on a 3-point try as regulation expired, and he could have won it for San Diego State but made only two of three from the line. The game went to overtime and the Lobos won 88-86.
``You never forget having the ball in your hand with a chance to win,' Gay said. ``I'm not going to lie. It was definitely on my mind as we played tonight. Luckily, my shot was falling and I was just able to come out and have a great game.'
This time it was a different story. Whenever the Lobos made a charge it was either Gay stopping it with a jumper or Leonard getting free for an easy bucket.
New Mexico twice cut the margin to 10 points in the final 7 minutes, but Leonard answered for the Aztecs each time. When the Lobos' Kendall Williams made two free throws to make it 65-55, Leonard hit a jumper at the other end.
Moments after that, New Mexico's Tony Snell swished a 3-pointer to trim the deficit to 71-61 but Leonard got free for a 3.
``We lost here the last time,' Leonard said. ``We knew the crowd was going to be into it, so we knew we had to come out and play our hardest. We just got more confident. We shot the ball well.'
Gay said he loves playing at The Pit.
``I think it's the crowd,' he said. ``I love coming here. I love playing here. It's a very great arena, a very great crowd. Not many places you can go to and not hear the guy standing five feet away from you. I just enjoy being here.'
Gay started the second half with a 3-pointer and hit another as the Aztecs built a 47-37 lead.
From there, San Diego State pulled away. Tapley made a jumper, Billy White was open for a 3-pointer, Leonard made two free throws and James Rahon swished a 3 from the right wing during an 11-4 run that stretched the Aztecs' lead to 58-41 at the 13-minute mark.
``It's called having good players that have found ways to go on the road and be effective,' Fisher said. ``This year, we're veterans. We have five seniors who know what it's like and that's what is expected. They have been able to deliver. They've gone a lot of places and won.'
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved