Nielson’s 3 helps Dixie State stave off Hawaii Pacific for 12th straight win

Dixie State University vs. Hawai'i Pacific University, Men's Basketball, St. George, Utah, Feb. 17, 2018, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – Dixie State’s main rockets weren’t firing. Fortunately, the Trailblazers had a set of secondary burners to turn to.

Kyler Nielson had 14 points, including a key 3-pointer late in the game, and Isaiah “Slim” Clark tied his career high with 14 points and eight rebounds as Dixie State won its 12th game in a row with a 69-58 topping of Hawaii Pacific.

“If you would have told me that we’d have Brandon Simister score just eight points and Trevor Hill had just four and we would still win this game by 11, I would have said you were crazy,” DSU head coach Jon Judkins said. “Fortunately, we have a deep bench and we have some other guys who can step up when called upon.”

Hill spent almost the entire first half on the bench in foul trouble and Simister was suffering through a miserable 2 for 11 shooting night. The low production from the two star guards could’ve spelled trouble for DSU if not for Nielson and Clark.

Dixie State’s Kyler Nielson (20), Dixie State University vs. Hawai’i Pacific University, Men’s Basketball, St. George, Utah, Feb. 17, 2018, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

“We just try to play like it’s 0-0 all the time and I’m glad I could contribute tonight,” Nielson said. “I wasn’t really thinking about the score or anything else. I was just trying to shoot the ball with confidence and squaring up to the basket.”

It was a weird sort of game in that Dixie State looked like it was going to blow the Sharks out of the water in the first half, hten had to hold on for dear life and get some heroics from Nielson and Clark to win it.

DSU used a 16-0 run to turn a competitive games (19-13) into a rout in the first half. Clark had a dunk to start the run at the 7:41 mark of the first half and scored four more points before getting help from Nielson and Quincy Mathews. With 3:10 to go in the half, the lead had swollen to 35-13.

But HPU grabbed the momentum back and managed to pull within 11 behind the shooting of Niksha Federico just before half. Simister hit a deep trey just before the buzzer to make it 40-26 at intermission.

The Sharks continued to chip away at the Dixie State lead in the second half and when Albert Christensson hit back-to-back shots in the paint, it was a two-point game at 52-50 with 6:46 left in the game.

Enter Nielson for the biggest shot of the contest.

The Blazers worked the shot clock under 10 seconds and then Simister penetrated into the HPU zone. With the defense drawn in, Simister kicked to Nielson, who buried a right-corner trey to push the lead back to five at 55-50.

“I wasn’t even thinking about the game situation, ” Nielson said. “It was just catch, face up and I was open, then knock the shot down. That’s just a shot that I have to be confident in shooting. I wasn’t really paying attention to the score, but in retrospect, yeah, it was a big shot.”

Seconds later, after a Sharks miss, Nielson scored on an up-and-under layup to make it 57-50 and disaster was averted.

“Every team goes on runs. I don’t care what league you play in, that’s just what happens,” Judkins said. “When teams do that, there’s three things you have to do. One, you’ve go to defend. Two, you’ve got to get the ball inside and get some easy buckets. And three, you’ve got to get to the foul line. We weren’t doing those things when they made their run.”

Dixie State’s Isaiah Clark (52), Dixie State University vs. Hawai’i Pacific University, Men’s Basketball, St. George, Utah, Feb. 17, 2018, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

Dixie State did do those things when the game got close again. Clark had a couple of key blocked shots and the Blazers showed life by diving for loose balls and crashing the offensive glass.

“Each game is going to be different, but I was just trying to go out and give effort and make some plays,” Clark said. “It was a very physical game and this is a very physical conference. I learned that in my first game here last year. But we can’t afford to have lapses like that. It could cost us the game sometime.”

The Sharks did make one last push, cutting it to 57-54 with 4:58 left, but Zac Hunter scored inside and Clark and Hill hit four straight free throws for a 6-0 run to make it 63-54 with 3:44 left and HPU never got closer than seven the rest of the game.

Dixie State has had a love/hate relationship with free throws this season, at times keeping lesser opponents in games with poor foul shooting. But the Blazers were good against Hawaii Pacific, making 23 of 28 charity shots (82 percent). DSU also won the battle of the boards with a 41-33 advantage and the Blazers had 10 steals in the game, four of those by Simister.

Dixie State is flying in high altitude with its current winning streak. Winners of 12 straight, DSU is now 18-6 overall and 15-2 in the PacWest Conference. The Trailblazers are being chased by a couple of hot teams as well. Cal Baptist is 16-3 in conference and has won eight straight, and Point Loma is 15-4 and has won seven straight. Azusa Pacific lurks just behind with a 14-4 conference record.

Dixie State plays its final home game of the season Monday night against Holy Names. The Blazers will honor their seniors that night , a list that includes Hill, Simister, Nielson, Clark, Hunter and Daylor Youngblood.

Stats: DSU 69, HPU 58

PacWest Conference Men’s Basketball Standings (conference, overall)
1. Dixie State  15-2, 18-6
2. Cal Baptist  16-3, 23-4
3. Point Loma  15-4, 21-7
4. Azusa Pacific  14-4, 18-8
5. Concordia  10-7, 17-9
6t. Chaminade  10-8, 15-10
6t. Academy of Art  10-8, 11-13
8. Hawaii Pacific  9-9, 14-12
9. Holy Names  7-11, 11-18
10. Hawaii Hilo  5-13, 6-19
11. Biola  5-14, 11-16
12. Dominican  4-14, 5-20
13. Notre Dame de Namur  4-15, 5-19
14. Fresno Pacific  3-15, 5-21
Note – Top eight teams play in the PacWest Conference tournament

Women’s basketball
HPU 83, DSU 72

The first-place Sharks outscored the Trailblazers 44-30 in the second half to capture their 17th PacWest victory of the season.

Behind the sharp shooting of Taylor Moeaki, Matti Ventling and Keslee Stevenson, Dixie State had a 42-39 at intermission. Stevenson had three treys in the first half and Moeaki and Ventling had two each as DSU made 8 of 12 deep balls before halftime.

But things changed in the second half. The lead briefly got to seven at 46-39 early in the third quarter, but the Sharks took off on a run by outscoring DSU 22-10 over the next eight minutes of game play. The duo of Jessi Reeves and Samantha Lambrigtson led the way. They combined for 36 points and 20 rebounds for the Sharks, who led 61-56 heading to the fourth quarter.

Dixie State got within 63-60 after consecutive baskets by Moeaki and Tramina Jordan, but could get no closer. HPU hit 20 of 27 free throws in the game to come away with the victory.

DSU was led by Moeaki, who had 21 points and four assists, and Stevenson, who had 13 points and four rebounds.

The Blazers, 7-10 in the PacWest and 11-13 overall, host Holy Names Monday.

Stats: HPU 83, DSU 72

PacWest Conference Women’s Basketball Standings (conference, overall)
1. Hawaii Pacific  17-1, 23-2
2. Azusa Pacific  16-2, 25-3
3. Cal Baptist  12-6, 15-11
4t. Concordia  11-6, 14-9
4. Dominican  11-6, 17-8
6. Point Loma  11-8, 16-10
7. Biola  10-9, 13-12
8. Fresno Pacific  9-9, 11-15
9. Notre Dame de Namur  8-11, 11-16
10. Dixie State  7-10, 11-13
11. Academy of Art  5-13, 6-20
12. Hawaii Hilo  4-14, 6-15
13. Holy Names  3-15, 4-22
14. Chaminade  2-16, 2-18
Note – Top eight teams play in the PacWest Conference tournament

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