ST. GEORGE — Beading sweat, Jacob Nicolds could do nothing but shrug, questioningly. There was not enough fight left to even argue. The game had long been decided. Dixie State had not scored in nearly six full minutes. All he could do was give the ball to the referee after the traveling call and try again on defense, a prospect that had proved futile for the first 34 minutes. All that was left to do was hold on for the next six minutes until No. 1 ranked Gonzaga secured the 112-67 home win.
The Trailblazers were never going to beat Gonzaga. Nor was it expected to be particularly close. After an impressive start, the decked that had been stacked against them started to turn out the cards DSU didn’t want to see.
Dixie State earnestly played a sound game. It shot well and was efficient. It moved the ball well. It challenged on defense appropriately without taking too many fouls against a speedy, strong and talented team. The Blazers even got the Zags out of tempo at times, finding wide open opportunities on defense.
“I was proud of how hard we tried,” Dixie State head coach Jon Judkins said. “We kind of ran out of gas after a while.
“They’re really good,” Judkins said of Gonzaga. “They’re just smart and they execute. They’re going to beat a lot of teams. Hopefully our guys can remember this and get better from this.”
But the Bulldogs are the No. 1 team in the country for a reason. They played sounder. They were faster. They got the Trailblazers out of tempo more often. If that wasn’t enough, they had a full roster. Dixie brought only nine players, and only eight of them played beyond the fifth minute of the game. It took lots of energy to just keep up with one of college basketball’s true powerhouses. Dixie emptied its limited tank.
The Trailblazers kept it respectable for the first 10 minutes of the game, trailing by 10 at the 9:30 mark of the first half. Gonzaga steadily scored at a pace higher than Dixie, and the gap only grew. By halftime, it was 63-38.
The Trailblazers were without Frank Staine, one of the team’s top scorers and integral piece on both sides of the court, after a positive COVID-19 test. Isaiah Pope was also unavailable, who averaged a point every two minutes played in his first two games on Dec. 17 and 19. Mikey Frazier, a huge cog to the team’s future physicality ventures, albeit if he’s still young and raw, was also not there. Dason Youngblood started, but was out of the game with an injury less than four minutes in.
This isn’t to say the missing pieces would have been enough to turn a 45-point deficit into a win. They wouldn’t have. But, they may have been able to really put on display what exactly Judkins is building in Division I’s newest program. The sampler version was still enough to turn some heads, including that of the opposing head coach.
“I’m really, really impressed with their offensive execution,” Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said. “Roger (Powell), our scout tonight was like, ‘Coach, they’re going to remind you of us.’ They play fast. They move the ball … They deserve a lot of credit.”
Cameron Gooden scored 20 points. His speed made basketball’s best watch as he drove past. He landed 3-of-5 from behind the arc and 7-of-8 from the free-throw line. He sat for one minute and 13 seconds in the first half and exited the game with 2:52 left to play. He was on the court for 36 minutes of high-intensity, high-motion basketball.
The circumstances forced Judkins to give extensive playing time to depth pieces, throwing some guys into the deep end to sink or swim. Brock Gilbert nearly broke 10 assists in 29 minutes. Trevon Allfrey hit double-digit points for the first time in his DSU career. Emad Elniel only went 1-for-5 from the field, but did not miss by much on any of his four blanks. Mark Hatch scored four points in his 13 minutes.
“This is going to be learning experience for us,” Judkins said. “These guys, they’re mad they lost tonight, but they’ll be back and ready to fight.”
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