The Burns Arena hosted a battle between two top teams in the Pacific West Conference men’s basketball race; leaving the home team, Dixie State University, on the losing end.
In what was a vital game for both teams Saturday night, California Baptist University returned the favor to the Trailblazers after DSU gave the Lancers their first loss earlier in the season. Without their top player, CBU still showed they deserved to be in the race for conference champions.
“We had to play a really good game tonight to beat these guys,” head coach Jon Judkins said. “We had a few guys tonight [that] didn’t show up to play. I was trying everybody, [and] I couldn’t find the right fit.”
The first half was fairly even between the two teams as they traded baskets back and forth. As the Lancers would go off on a small run, the Trailblazers would respond right back.
CBU did not make anything easy for DSU as it forced them to earn every point. The Trailblazers were held to under 30 percent from the field in the first half. Yet, with defensive intensity being shown by CBU on every possession, the Trailblazers did take care of the ball with only one turnover.
After a near buzzer beater from sophomore center Austin Montgomery, DSU went into halftime trailing by two, 28-26.
CBU put down the gas pedal as it began the second half with a quick 5-0 run. The Lancers’ offense was sharp as they hit on 55.2 percent of their shots while also hitting their free throws down the stretch.
“I try to tell all our guys, ‘if you play good defense, your offense will come,’” Judkins said. “Sometimes we got guys that all they care about is the offensive end and that hurts you at the defensive end.”
The Trailblazers had no answer as they failed to take the lead or tie the game in the second half. The only hot hand for the ice-cold Trailblazers was junior forward Kyler Nielson, shooting 7-11 from the field with 19 points in the game.
“In a game like this, our coaches just mention as well that we got to have everyone firing on all cylinders and everyone has got to play their best game to win a game against a team like this,” said Nielson, a criminal justice major from Cedar City. “That just didn’t happen tonight, but we will figure it out.”
DSU simply had no answers to the Lancers’ game plan. The Trailblazers finished the game shooting 30.3 percent on 20-66 from the floor.
“Defensively, they did a great job on us,” said Montgomery, a double major in biology and software development from Gainesville, Georgia. “They had us force up a lot of shots that we usually don’t take.”
With the 70-59 loss to CBU, the Trailblazers’ highest hope is to finish the regular season in second place and a first-round bye in the conference tournament.
DSU will now travel to the state of Hawaii as it hopes to rebound from the loss to CBU in a match-up with the University of Hawaii-Hilo Feb. 16 at 7:30 p.m. (HT).