FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Senior guard Gabe Rogers is playing his best basketball of the season at the perfect time. After struggling from the field earlier this year, Rogers has found his shot and posted his best performances of the season of late heading into the second-to-last home stand of the regular season.
“These games are very important,” said Rogers. “Coach Murphy has talked to us seniors about having a sense of urgency. We have a minimum number of games left and you want to do as much as you can to squeeze out more games (by advancing to the postseason). Our main goal is to make it to the NCAA Tournament. Coach has been there and he really wants us to experience that too.”
The Lumberjacks are in a battle for a spot in the postseason entering home games this week against Portland State and Eastern Washington and Rogers will play a vital role in the final results this season.
After missing the first 11 games of his junior season due to an injury, Rogers struggled for most of the season. He came back this year looking to repeat his outstanding sophomore campaign in 2011-12 when he had ranked fifth in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage, shooting 47 percent beyond the arc and earning All-Big Sky second-team honors.
Rogers admits he lost his confidence last season but opened his senior year with back-to-back solid performances in the two exhibition games, scoring 20 or more points in each contest.
He scored 27 points in an early non-conference game against UC Davis and still ranked among the top scorers in the league for most of the first half. But he was not shooting a high percentage and lacked the confidence he showcased two years ago.
The NAU coaching staff stayed behind Rogers, working with him after practice while keeping their faith in his abilities. Murphy started placing Rogers in challenging defensive assignments that resulted in an overall boost to his game on both ends of the floor.
“It has been his focus and intensity on the defensive end of the floor that has really helped his offense come around because it has helped his entire game,” said Murphy. “He has felt more involved in the game and has not felt the pressure to put everything on his shoulders.”
Rogers guarded Weber State’s Scott Bamforth on the road and held him to nine points. He helped NAU get their first road win of the season by holding Idaho State’s Tomas Sanchez in check. Tate Unruh, one of the leading scorers for the Bears, scored just seven points for Northern Colorado in the Lumberjacks’ win in Flagstaff.
“I think Coach has a great point,” said Rogers. “I am taking those matchups personally. I want to shut my man down and play well against him. I think that is why Coach has had me guard the toughest players.”
With the new confidence, Rogers has been more productive on the offensive end. He has scored in double figures in each of the last six games entering the week, posting some big numbers on the scoreboard.
Rogers scored 28 points with two assists, a steal and a rebound in the 67-65 win over Northern Colorado on Jan. 24, shooting 11-of-19 from the field, 4-of-9 from 3-point range and 2-of-2 from the free-throw line. He recorded five points down the stretch that proved pivotal in the win. Two days later, he exploded for a career-high 35 points an 81-79 loss to North Dakota on Jan. 26. Rogers made 13-of-23 from the field, 4-of-8 from 3-point range and 5-of-6 from the free-throw line. The 35 points were the most scored by a Big Sky player this season and tied him for 10th all-time in NAU single-game history.
He was named the Big Sky Conference Co-Player of the Week with Montana State guard Christian Moon after averaging 31.5 points per game and shooting .571 percent from the field for the week.
“Coach Che (Jones) told me I need to get my ‘me’ back,” said Rogers. “I needed to start being me. It does not mean scoring. It just means playing with a confidence and a swagger that I usually play with in games. I have not been playing like that for a long time.”
He is now and it is being showcased all over the court.
Rogers, who has always been a three-point threat, has been able to drive to the basket more, creating opportunities at the free throw line, while making his mid-range jumper consistently.
“There were times earlier in the year where he tried that and it just did not work out as well,” said Murphy. “He was turning the ball over and having a difficult time when he got in the paint. Now he is finding his rhythm. When he can get to the rim and get a lay in, he is taking it. When has to hit a pull up jumper in the mid-range, he is doing a good job of knocking that shot down. The game has slowed down for him and he has his feet under him. He is ready to rock and roll.”
Another development off the court also has helped Rogers and his game. He recently proposed to his girlfriend Jenne Childs, a former track and field standout at NAU.
“As soon as I proposed, I had a lot of pressure off my shoulders,” said Rogers. “I have a great fiancé. She is a great woman and is always there for me. She has a great family. Her grandparents Jean and Ed Jacoby, who live in Flagstaff, really took me in and made me feel like family. I really love them. It feels good to have that one person that you can call on.”
With his collegiate career coming to an end, Rogers has not had time to reflect on some of his accomplishments in a Lumberjack uniform but will in time.
The Houston, Texas, native became the 26th player to eclipse the 1,000 point milestone earlier this season against Montana and ranks 16th in school history with 1,189 points entering the games this week. He also became the 14th player in league history to record 200 career 3-pointers and is leading the team and ranks third in the Big Sky Conference in scoring at 16.2 points per game.
“It is great to hit those milestones and accomplishments,” said Rogers. “When I leave here I will look back and realize I really accomplished some great goals playing basketball at the top level.”
Marriage and future plans await Rogers with his fiancé but he is firmly focused on finishing his final season on a strong note as the Lumberjacks fight for a postseason berth.
“I am really proud that he has persevered through some tough times and is seeing the benefits of his hard work,” said Murphy.