New face earns new glory

Whispers and chatter concerning Jeremiah Dominguez’s chances of becoming the Big Sky Player of the Year swirled around the Vikings and the speedy point guard for much of the second half of the season.

Whispers and chatter concerning Jeremiah Dominguez’s chances of becoming the Big Sky Player of the Year swirled around the Vikings and the speedy point guard for much of the second half of the season.

A major reason for these Big Sky Player of the Year suspicions was the 5-foot-6 guard’s play down the stretch of several games this season.

Dominguez pulled through with a pair of clutch free throws against Montana; scored the final eight points, including six straight free throws to edge Weber State in front of a sell-out crowd at the Stott Center; and had helped seal an overtime victory over Northern Colorado with stellar late-game antics, garnering immense hype and expectations.

On Wednesday, Dominguez received what so many claimed he deserved all along, as he was named the Big Sky Player of the Year, Newcomer of the Year and a member of the first team All-Conference squad.

With all Portland State has accomplished this season, including winning 12 straight conference matchups, setting a new school record with 21 wins and earning the right to host the Big Sky Tournament next week, the fact that Dominguez is playing in his first season in the South Park Blocks has been lost.

When the season was still early back in November, Dominguez, who transferred from the University of Portland because of academic issues following the 2005-2006 season, provided a bit of foreshadowing for the honor he would receive about five months later.

“You get recognized by what you do,” Dominguez said. “If you play well and win, the recognition comes.”

Playing well has not been an issue for Dominguez, as he finished the regular season in the top-five in eight different Big Sky statistical categories.

Dominguez led the conference in free-throw percentage (.838), steals (1.9) and three-point field goals per game (2.66). He also ranked third in scoring at 14.4 points per game, assists (4.03), three-point percentage (.445), second in assist/turnover ratio (1.65) and fourth in minutes played (32.14).

“To have the record we have, and the stats he has, and the way he’s taken over so many games at the end, it’d be ridiculous if he didn’t win,” said head coach Ken Bone.

Despite the impressive numbers, Dominguez’s success seems to come back to his late-game heroics. Not only does Dominguez take care of the ball with the clock running down, but he always seems to find the bottom of the net when the level of importance is at its highest.

One of these performances came against Montana at the Stott Center, as the swift floor general scored a then career-high 26 points versus the Grizzlies, sinking the game-winning free throws with 5.7 seconds left. Two nights later against Montana State, Dominguez poured in 26 second-half points to lead the Vikings to another victory.

Over the season, Dominguez has played his best when his team needs his scoring the most-in the final seconds. And opposing coaches typically remember demoralizing late-game shots, which is most likely why Dominguez was honored with an award for which those at the helm vote.

Dominguez said he was happy to receive the award, but he has yet to reach all his goals.

“It will mean a lot more if we win the tournament next week,” Dominguez said. “It’s a good individual award to win, but I’ll be happier if we go to the NCAA Tournament.”

Statistics aside, Dominguez has become the unquestioned leader of the Vikings. Portland State struggled a bit early in the season and was 7-7 entering the New Year. No doubt it took a while for the Vikings to settle into the season after adding six new players. Injuries also played a major role early on, forcing Bone to change his lineup and use a deeper rotation. But through it all, Dominguez was gaining confidence.

“He’s more comfortable, I think,” Bone said. “By nature, he’s a pretty quiet, reserved, almost shy individual. I think he’s in a comfort zone now with our team, and the players are too. They all look up to him now, and with that I think comes more confidence to be that leader.”

Dominguez singled out the road victory over Idaho State on Jan. 13 as a turning point for the Vikings.

“We came together and said, ‘Come on guys, we are not going to do this now. Our season’s going downhill,'” Dominguez said. “I think from there we didn’t lose a game.”

Even with the 12-game Big Sky winning streak and now the awards, Dominguez still has his team focused on getting to the NCAA Tournament.

“We won league now,” Dominguez said. “It doesn’t really matter. We can lose any time and not win it. We’ve got to win two more games.”