Dylan Garrity admits there is a basketball skill that doesn’t come easily to him.
“It’s always been hard for me to shoot because it’s not in my nature,” said the Sacramento State senior guard and the Hornets’ No. 2 career leader in assists. “I’m so used to setting up my teammates and trying to get assists. But if scoring is going to help us win, then you’ve got to do what’s best for the team.”
The 6-foot-2, four-year starter is getting the hang of a new role this season, and it’s coming just in time as the Hornets (6-5) open Big Sky Conference play Thursday night against Northern Arizona (5-8) at The Nest.
Garrity is coming off a career-high 28-point performance in a 74-49 road win over Utah Valley on Saturday. He made 8 of 9 shots, including 6 of 7 three-point attempts, and was 6 for 6 from the foul line.
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The performance earned the Huntington Beach native the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week honor and helped the Hornets finish their nonconference season with a winning record, only the fourth time that has happened since they moved to Division I in 1991-92. The win over Utah Valley also was the second-largest margin of victory on the road in the D-I era and came as a bit of a surprise.
Sac State hasn’t played well outside California in suffering 11- and 19-point losses at Abilene Christian and Seattle, respectively, as well as a 46-point blowout at No. 7 Gonzaga in the season opener. The Hornets also trounced a Utah Valley team with a reputation for playing well at home and that lost by nine points to the Hornets at The Nest on Dec. 1.
“That was like a Big Sky road game in that it was hard travel, a tough atmosphere and a cold-weather climate,” Sac State coach Brian Katz said. “Hopefully, it’s a good starting point when it comes to future road games for us.”
The Hornets practiced Christmas night at home and left early Friday morning for Orem, Utah, before playing the Wolverines the next night.
But Garrity played as if he hadn’t left The Nest, where the Hornets are 25-8 since 2012. He surpassed his previous career best of 26 points while adding three rebounds and two assists in 32 minutes.
Co-captain Mikh McKinney marveled at his backcourt mate’s accuracy.
“I shot 12 times and had 13 points, and he shot nine times and had 28,” McKinney said. “You can’t beat that.”
Garrity is averaging 13.1 points this season, and his 43 percent career three-point average is third best in Hornets history. He is 10th in school history in scoring with 1,090 points, and his 468 career assists are second to the 501 by DaShawn Freeman (2002-06). The mark also puts him in a tie for ninth all-time in the Big Sky.
But this season Katz wanted to take more advantage of Garrity’s long-range shooting, a big reason he is no longer the primary ballhandling point guard. That role has gone to McKinney, who leads the team in assists with 47 while averaging a team-high 17.7 points.
“It’s a good problem to have when the coach is telling you to shoot more,” McKinney said of Garrity. “Dylan is not really much of a volume shooter, though coach has been trying to mold him into that. Dylan is a true point guard. But for the DNA of this team, he needs to get his shots up because with Dylan no shot is a bad shot.”
Garrity’s range is renowned. His 75-footer at the overtime buzzer in the Hornets’ 78-75 home win over Big Sky champion Weber State last February went viral nationally as “The Hail Garrity.”
Still, Garrity’s pass-first mentality can’t be shaken, even as Katz implores him from the bench to shoot more.
“He’d rather let somebody else get the glory or attention rather than himself,” Katz said. “I tell Dylan that’s fine, but for our team, we need you to shoot and not to pass up open shots.”
Well-traveled Hornets – The Sac State women (2-9) have learned to keep their bags packed this season. Thursday’s Big Sky Conference opener at Northern Arizona (4-7) will be their ninth road contest in 12 games this season. They will play Saturday at No. 10 Southern Utah (6-3). While playing the most challenging nonconference schedule of any Big Sky team, the Hornets lead NCAA D-I teams with 13.5 three-pointers, 16.1 steals and 20 offensive rebounds per game.
Long-distance Aggies – The UC Davis men (9-3) enter Saturday’s home game against Cal Maritime (7-8) leading the Big West Conference in field-goal percentage (50.1) and three-point shooting (41.8) while averaging 70.3 points. The Aggies made a season-best 56.2 percent (9 of 16) from three-point range in their 90-83 loss at Washington State on Sunday and are fifth nationally among D-I teams in that category (102 for 244).
Fipps climbs the charts – UC Davis senior forward Sydnee Fipps enters Saturday’s game against visiting Menlo needing 20 points to move into a third-place tie for Aggies career points. With 13 points in the Aggies’ 71-59 loss at No. 15 Stanford on Dec. 22, Fipps has 1,393.
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.
UPCOMING BASKETBALL GAMES
Men: Today, vs. Northern Arizona, 7:05 p.m., 1380; Saturday, vs. Southern Utah, 7:05 p.m., 1380
Women: Today, at Northern Arizona, 1 p.m.; Saturday, at Southern Utah, 6 p.m.
Men: Saturday, vs. Cal Maritime, 7 p.m., 105.5; Wednesday, vs. Cal State Northridge, 7 p.m., 105.5
Women: Saturday, vs. Menlo, 4:30 p.m., 90.3; Thursday, at Cal State Northridge, 7 p.m., 90.3