Tuesday night's game between Utah State and Pacific was five minutes old and Danny Conway, USU's star forward, had yet to make his first appearance of the night. He was settled in on the bench, chin in his hand, elbow on his knee, staring at the action. Two minutes later, Conway was still on the bench. And two minutes later, yep, still there. Check back two minutes later and Conway still hadn't so much as removed his warmups.
With seven minutes left in the half Conway finally entered the game, but in the second half, the sitting game resumed until, with six minutes left and the contest out of reach, he returned to the court.What's this? Conway doing mop-up duty? Is this any way to treat a second-team all-conference forward and the 15th highest scorer in school history?
It seems so. Conway, in the final season of a fine collegiate career, has sunk into a baffling, stupifying, frustrating slump that seems to have no end. He is averaging 8.9 points a game and is shooting 37.8 percent from the field - this from a career 51 percent shooter who led USU in scoring last year with a 16.2 average. In seven games this season, Conway has scored seven points or less, and in eight games he has had three rebounds or less. All of which no doubt has contributed greatly to USU's sudden demise this year - the Aggies take a 3-8 record into Sunday's game against New Mexico State Sunday night in Las Cruces.
"I've seen players have slumps before, but not like this," says USU coach Kohn Smith, who loyally stuck with Conway for seven games before reluctantly benching him four games ago. Since then, Conway, who had started 69 of USU's previous 70 games, has been called off the bench only sparingly - 20 minutes against Detroit, 16 against Indiana, 29 against Fresno State, 13 against Pacific. A year ago he averaged more than 32 minutes a game.
"I have by no means given up on Danny," says Smith, "but others have been playing well."
Says Conway, "I don't fault Coach Smith, because he's given me a lot of chances. I know he's doing what he thinks is best for the team. He's not going to bench me for playing well."
How is it that Conway has fallen so far so fast? Is it the new marriage? The new offense? Homework? A bad alignment of the stars?
"I don't know if there is any reason," says Conway. "For whatever reasons, I shot badly at the start of the season, and then I put pressure on myself to break out of the slump. And then we're losing, to boot, and that added to the pressure I felt. We all thought we'd be 8-3 at this point, not 3-8."
Conway says he has tried to relax, hoping that would bring his game around, but he admits, "I've been more nervous for the last few games than I ever have been in my life. I want to do well so badly."
Conway has tried everything. He's studied videotapes of himself from last year's season. He's talked to coaches. He's gone to practice early and stayed late, working with coaches individually.
"Everyone keeps telling me just to play like I did last year," he says. "If it were that easy, I'd do it. It's just one of those things. It just happens. You just have an off time."
"I really feel for him," says Smith. "It's got to be difficult for him. He's just got himself into a situation where he has to play his way out of it."
Smith, who also has studied tapes of Conway's performances in past years, is as baffled as everyone else by Conway's slump. "I don't know," says Smith, who takes a few guesses anyway. "Maybe he's had a hard time adjusting to the offense. And he got married, so he's had to adjust to that." Smith thinks the graduation loss of Kevin Nixon, Jeff Anderson and Jon Judkins also might have hurt Conway. "The three perimeter players last year opened up the middle a lot for Danny," says Smith.
This is not the first time Conway has had to ride out a slump. As a freshman, he started USU's first 11 games, but after going scoreless for three consecutive games he was benched and played little the rest of the year. The following year he returned to the starting lineup and averaged 14.9 points and 6.6 rebounds a game. His junior season was more of the same.
"I still have the ability," says Conway. "It hasn't just flown out the window. The main thing is confidence."
In the meantime, Conway sits, hoping things will be the way they were. "I'd like to end my career on an up note. I can only do so much with 16 games left and the playing time I'm getting. But who knows, maybe in 15 games everyone will be asking me about my comeback."