Dixie State comeback comes up short against Utah Valley

File photo of Dixie State University vs. Cal State East Bay University, Women's Basketball, St. George, Utah, Nov. 21, 2016, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

OREM – Utah Valley nailed its free throws and fended off a scrappy Dixie State team 72-63 Tuesday night at the UCCU Center.

Leading by nine with 3:16 remaining, it looked like a lock for the Wolverines late in the fourth quarter over the Trailblazers.

But DSU clawed back.

First, Maile Richardson got a big rebound and putback. After two missed free throws by the Wolverines, Matti Ventling hit a 3-pointer from the left side to cut the deficit to four. With 53 seconds remaining, Mariah Martin stole a cross-court pass. On her way to the basket, she did a wrap-around dribble and then got fouled on the layup. Her two free throws cut the lead to 65-63 with 49 seconds remaining.

With the shot clock still in play, Dixie State had to get just one more stop and then would have a chance for the tie or go-ahead score with approximately 19 seconds left. But the Blazers elected to foul instead. Because they were several fouls under the limit, it took four consecutive fouls to put UVU at the free-throw line. The Wolverines hit six consecutive free throws to close the game out and give Dixie State the loss.

Dixie State head coach J.D. Gustin explained his strategy to foul rather than getting one more stop.

“We only had two fouls,” Gustin said. “Had they drained the clock and then scored, we would have had limited time to score and then get the three fouls necessary to put them at the line. My philosophy is to foul when it gets under one minute remaining. We got the person we wanted at the line. She had just missed two free throws in an earlier possession and she is not a good free-throw shooter. But she hit them at the end.”

Dixie State’s Mariah Martin (3), Dixie State University vs. Westminster College, Women’s Basketball, St. George, UT, Nov. 24, 2017, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

Dixie State started the game well as Ali Franks and Tramina Jordan nailed 3-pointers to open up a 6-2 lead in the opening minute. The teams stayed relatively close with the game tied at 9-9 and then later at 15-15. But DSU closed the first quarter with six straight points, the final three coming off a 3-pointer by Morgan Myers with 22 seconds left.

In the second quarter, the Blazers maintained their lead for the first two minutes. Martin’s 3-pointer at the eight-minute mark had DSU up 26-20. UVU then went on a 13-1 run to lead 33-27 with 1:45 remaining in the half. Martin’s third 3-pointer stopped the run, but not the momentum. Utah Valley closed the half on a 5-2 run to take a 38-32 advantage into the locker room.

At halftime, the Wolverines had outshot DSU 44 to 39 percent. The Trailblazers held a 22-16 rebounding advantage. Martin led Dixie State with 11 points, hitting all four of her shots from the floor.

Out of the break, the Wolverines hit two quick treys to open up a double-digit lead. Jordan hit two 3s over the next three minutes to pull the Blazers back to within six, 46-40, with 5:42 in the third. Martin cut that lead to four with a steal and fast break layup. Moments later, Martin hit another 3-pointer to pull to 49-45 with 2:38 remaining. But UVU closed the third strong (7-2) to take a nine-point lead going into the fourth, 56-47.

Richardson’s free throw cut the lead to 56-53 with 7:25 remaining. The Wolverines then outscored DSU 9-3 to set up the final three minutes of play.

For the game, Dixie State outrebounded the Wolverines 38-33 and outshot them 43-42 percent. But the Blazers committed 22 turnovers, 15 more than UVU. That led to 16 more shots for the home team and a 23-7 points off turnovers advantage.

“We had 22 turnovers against a 2-3 zone,” Gustin said. “That just should not happen. And normally our defense creates more turnovers. They had veteran guards that hurt us on pick plays. We tried five different ways to guard it and we just did not have success.”

Individually for DSU, Martin led the team with 18 points, hitting all four of her 3-pointers. Richardson scored 12. Jordan led the team with six assists. Ashlee Burge led the team with six rebounds.

Taylor Moeaki, who was just awarded the PacWest freshman player of the week missed the game due to injury.

“It hurt us not having our leading scorer,” Gustin said. “Taylor is day-to-day, however, and we hope to have her back in time for conference play.”

The Blazers will begin conference play on Saturday. With the loss, they drop to 4-3. They will host Academy of Art at 1:30 p.m. in Burns Arena.

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Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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