Temple's Fernandez has tough act to follow vs. San Diego State - his own

Posted: March 19, 2011

TUCSON, Ariz. - Most people following the NCAA Tournament on television have seen the shot a dozen times if they have seen it once; it is more ubiquitous than Barkley. While Juan Fernandez said he is trying to avoid it, he still has seen it three or four times.

Just inside the three-point line, desperate, leaning, knifing into an open space, 18 feet or so, less than a second to play, good. It is the shot that lifted Temple to a first-round NCAA Tournament victory over Penn State, the shot that will define this season for the Owls in many memories.

When he watches with his teammates, Fernandez said that, after the first time, they stopped looking at him and the shot itself and instead began to focus on the scenery. They all have seen how coach Fran Dunphy really deadpans the whole thing as the arena explodes around him. They also fixate now on teammate Dutch Gaitley, who can be seen on the bench spreading his arms and physically restraining/manhandling several players to prevent them from stepping out onto the court in celebration and risking a technical foul.

"There's always something new that comes up," Fernandez said. "We love to see those kinds of things."

At home in Argentina, Fernandez' father - a longtime professional basketball player and now a coach in that country's top league - tried to be clinical about it and kept his emotions pretty well, Juan said. His mother was different, though. He said she was crying all day.

"I kept thinking about it this morning when I woke up," Fernandez said. "I said to myself, 'It's over with, think about San Diego State.' We celebrated yesterday and there's not much you can do now.

"I'm always going to remember this, but it will be even better if we can get to the Sweet 16."

In front of them are the Aztecs, the No. 2 seed in the West Region. They are a team with a big, athletic front line that has a chance to dominate the Owls inside - and in a significant way.

Temple needs to play a smart and deliberate game, and to minimize two things: turnovers and missed shots (because San Diego State will take either and run the ball down the Owls' throat if given the opportunity).

"The important thing is not to rush anything, to think about everything we do and to limit their fastbreaks," Fernandez said.

In other words, the guy who made the shot heard 'round the tournament - the player, as the point guard, who has the most control over the pace of the game and who is the brain of the offense on the floor - has an even bigger task ahead of him today.

His season has had its challenging times. A knee injury slowed him physically and a crisis in confidence affected his shooting in the middle of the season. At one point, at the urging of Owls assistant coach Matt Langel, Fernandez consulted a sports psychologist.

"I really didn't want to at first," he said. "And then, you know, Coach Langel told me why didn't you try it, because I was going through a tough time, especially shooting the ball, coming from a good last year. It definitely can't hurt you. I think the guy helped me.

"You know, you've got someone to talk to and it was just something different, something new for me. I never had to go through this. So, this has been, personally, a pretty interesting year. As a team, we're doing something we haven't been able to do lately, which is win that game [Thursday]. So it will be awesome if we can win [today], too."

One notion the Owls are pondering is the size advantage of their guards against San Diego State. Again, this points to Fernandez as a key. He has had so many solid, steady moments in his three seasons at Temple that the role fits him fine. In some ways, it is hard to believe that he is the same player who shot about three-for-a-million last week in the Atlantic 10 Tournament against Richmond.

After that one, he and Dunphy had a talk. As the coach remembered it, "He tried to do too much . . . He had 17 shot attempts and 10 assists. So I said to him, 'When didn't you have the ball?' But he can't have 17 shot attempts. If you are the point guard, be the point guard. Let everybody be involved.

"But he has this - the same things that make him great are the same things that trouble you sometimes as well. There's sometimes a hard-headedness in him. That's why you give him the ball on the last play of the game, by the way - because you know that hard-headedness is going to hopefully result in something positive."

It did once, spectacularly. The second time will be harder, for Juan Fernandez, for all of them. *

Send e-mail to

hofmanr@phillynews.com, or read his blog, The Idle Rich, at

www.philly.com/TheIdleRich. For recent columns go to

www.philly.com/RichHofmann.

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