ST. GEORGE – Free-throw shooting has been the bane of the Dixie State’s existence this season as the Trailblazers have struggled in the early part of the season. But not this time as DSU connected on 34 of 43 free throws and outscored Azusa Pacific by 21 points from the line in an 88-73 victory at Burns Arena Saturday afternoon.
Dixie State head coach Jon Judkins has attributed some early-season losses directly to the team’s poor shooting at the charity stripe. That may have led to Azusa Pacific’s strategy down the stretch Saturday as the Cougars began sending Trailblazers to the foul line with just under eight minutes left in the contest. The strategy backfired for the COugars.
“They went to the same preseason tournaments where we were,” said Judkins. “They know we have struggled. I was surprised to see them start fouling us so early but our guys stepped up and knocked them down.”
When the Cougars implemented their strategy with 7:45 on the clock and down 63-49, APU selected DSU post Isaiah Clark as its first guinea pig. In quick succession, Clark went to the line two separate times and hit four straight free throws. Seven separate players went to the line and collectively hit 19 of 24 to end the game.
The first half was rife with both teams going on scoring runs. The game started with the Blazers scoring the first five points. Clark got a steal and an assist to Kyler Nielson, who hit a 3-pointer with 18:41 on the clock for the 5-0 lead. The Cougars responded by scoring the next 12 over the next two minutes.
The Trailblazers tied the score at 17-17 when Trevor Hill found Austin Montgomery on the fast break. For the second consecutive game, Montgomery got a monster dunk off the feed. DSU retook the lead on its next possession as Hill slashed to the lane, scored the basket and drew the foul. His free throw with 10:43 remaining gave Dixie State a 20-17 lead.
APU then went on an 8-0 run. Dixie State responded with a 12-0 run, highlighted by 3-pointers from Brandon Simister and Brandon Miller. Dub Price’s layup with 5:35 remaining gave DSU a 32-25 lead. Price’s aggressive power move and 3-pointer ended the scoring for the half and gave Dixie State its first double-digit lead 41-31.
At halftime, the Blazers held a 23-20 rebounding edge and were outshooting the Cougars 41-34 percent from the floor. Price led the team with 13 points while Nielson and Simister had seven apiece.
“Dub (Price) had a great first half,” said Nielson. “He came up with some big rebounds and also scored some big baskets to stretch our lead.”
The Blazers opened up the half with an alley-oop dunk by Hill. DSU scored the first seven points, forcing the Cougars to take a timeout.
“We had started poorly in previous games and blown some big leads,” said Simister. “We made a concentrated effort to play good defense and expand our lead after halftime.”
Azusa Pacific did chip away and eventually cut the lead back to single digits with 14:41 remaining. Hill got a layup and then fed Wade Miller on the fast break. On DSU’s next possession, Simister hit a jumper from the right side to give the Blazers a 54-40 lead. Azusa Pacific would not see single-digit deficits the rest of the night. Dixie State led by as many as 18 when Clark hit two free throws for the 67-49 lead.
For the game, DSU outrebounded the Cougars 46-42 and outshot them 46 to 35 percent.
“We knew that we had to block out against this team,” said Price. “They are very aggressive on the boards and hurt us last year. We have been running rebound drills all week. We felt we had a very good week of practice.”
Cougar post Petar Kuslesic had game highs of 25 points and 14 rebounds, including eight at the offensive end. No other Cougar had more than two offensive rebounds.
“(Kuslesic) is a great rebounder,” said Judkins. “We even told our guys to block out facing up. We did not care if our guy got the rebound as long as he prevented (Kuslesic) from getting it.”
For the Blazers, Simister led the team with 19 points and seven assists. Also scoring in double figures were Hill (15), Price (13) and Nielson (10). Nielson led the team with nine rebounds.
With the win, the Trailblazers are on a three-game winning streak and move to 5-4 overall. DSU is atop the PacWest standings at 2-0. The Trailblazers will now hit the road and face Cal Baptist in Riverside, Calif. Azusa Pacific falls to 6-5 overall and 2-1 in the PacWest.
Dixie State 66, Azusa Pacific 62
The Dixie State women’s basketball team upset No. 13-ranked Azusa Pacific Saturday afternoon at Burns Arena. The Blazers limited APU to only 18 second-half points and more than 20 points below their average to get the win.
Kristin Baldwin converted all six of her field goals, including one late from distance, and pulled down 17 rebounds to lead Dixie State. She also blocked three of the Cougars’ shots. Joining her in double figures were Mariah Martin (13) and Tramina Jordan (12). Martin led the team with five assists. Maile Richardson nearly joined Baldwin with a double-double of her own. She scored eight points and pulled down 10 rebounds. Taylor Moeaki and Ali Franks scored nine and eight points, respectively.
The Blazers move to 6-3 overall and 2-0 in the PacWest. Azusa suffers only its second loss, falling to 11-2 overall and 2-1 in the PacWest. The Blazers will travel to Riverside and face Cal Baptist this Saturday.
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