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MONMOUTH, Ore. — One of the hottest teams from Utah cooled off Friday afternoon.
Former Desert Hills standout Brandon Simister scored 17 points, including all four of Dixie State’s 3-pointers, but the Trailblazers saw their 17-game win streak snapped in an upset loss to Azusa Pacific, 68-65 in the opening round of the NCAA Division II West Regional Friday at Western Oregon.
Alta High product Trevor Hill finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds for Dixie State (23-7), which took the No. 2 seed into the West regional after winning the PacWest regular-season and tournament title.
"It’s not very fun to lose like this. These kids have worked very hard to get where they are at," Dixie State coach Jon Judkins said. "There are eight teams in this tournament, and anybody can win any night. I thought we had some chances and did some things well. But it goes back to our defense. In championship games, you can’t allow that.
"This game is going to sting a bit, but they have to remember what they did all year long. We started the season 3-5, and to win 17-straight and win the conference, I couldn’t be more proud of these guys."
Darien McClain scored 21 points, including six 3-pointers, to lead Azusa Pacific (21-10), and Petar Kutlesic supplied 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Cougars, which lost to Dixie State 88-73 Dec. 29 in conference play.
"There’s nothing like a loss at Dixie to leave you with a sour taste for the six-hour bus ride home," Azusa Pacific coach Justin Leslie said. "I absolutely love the staff and players at Dixie State. It’s one of those games that brings about the best in people."
Clinging to a three-point lead with as little as nine minutes left in the game, Azusa Pacific tied the game at 48-48 on McClain’s sixth 3-pointer.
The teams exchanged one-possession or fewer leads until Kutlesic’s outback with 1:49 remaining gave the Cougars a 66-62 advantage.
Simister pulled for a 3-pointer from deep with 46 seconds left to pull the Trailblazers within one, 66-65. But that was as close as the St. George squad would get in its final game as a member of the PacWest.
"We felt like we had a team and the chemistry to make a bigger splash in the national tournament," Simister said. "This is really hard. But I think the overwhelming feeling in the locker room is grateful to have the relationships we’ve had.
"I’ll cherish those forever and not let this game define our season."
The Cougars will face third-seeded Cal Baptist, also of the PacWest Conference, in the regional semifinals.
"I've been apart of a lot of teams. But I've never had a group of guys who wanted to succeed so bad as this team," Simister said.
"I think that's a huge part of why Trevor had an incredible year, and do some incredible things. It's because of unselfishness, and we need to always remember that we couldn't have done this by ourselves."