ST. GEORGE — College basketball is so much more fun when you win.
That was the overriding sentiment on the floor at Burns Arena Saturday night after the Utah Tech men’s basketball team beat in-state and Western Athletic Conference rival Southern Utah 86-79 in front of nearly 5,000 raucous fans.
“Obviously we wanted that really bad,” sophomore Tanner Christensen told St. George News outside of the Trailblazers locker room. “We were on a losing skid the last couple of games, and obviously to beat those guys who are 45 minutes away from us always feels good.”
The win snapped a three-game conference losing skid for the Trailblazers and more importantly invigorated a Utah Tech team that is now 11-13 overall, 3-8 in the WAC.
“The crowd was just crazy. It helps us when we go on runs, with momentum and everything,” Christensen said. “You know all we need is that little extra bit from the crowd and it gives us momentum every time.”
Utah Tech established the tone early, taking a 17-point lead into halftime and then nursing the big lead down the stretch. Senior Cameron Gooden was on a mission all night, scoring a game-high 26 points for Utah Tech, dishing out six assists and grabbing four rebounds.
Christensen, the 6-foot-10 big man from Spokane, Washington, was next for the Trailblazers with 21 points. He and Jacob Nicolds tied for the team-high with seven rebounds apiece. Frank Staine had a big night off the bench for Utah Tech, tallying 11 points, three steals and four rebounds in 26 minutes. Nicolds rounded out the double-digit scorers for the victors with 10 points including two 3-pointers.
“This really shows us that if we go out and play as a team for 40 minutes we can beat anybody in our conference,” Christensen said. “They’re number one or two right now in the league, so if we play like that every game we can beat anybody.”
Southern Utah lost a chance to move into a tie for first-place in the WAC. The setback left the T-Birds at 8-3 in the conference, trailing Utah Valley at 9-2. Five T-Birds scored in double figures led by Maizen Fausett’s 21 points. Jason Spurgin recorded a double-double with his 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Up next for Utah Tech is a road trip to face Seattle University on Wednesday, Feb. 8. Listen to the live broadcast at 7 p.m. (MT) on The Fan Sports Network.
“We feel confident. Especially after tonight, we’re excited,” Christensen said.
Utah Tech 87, UT Arlington 70
Meanwhile on Saturday afternoon the Utah Tech women erupted for 13 3-pointers in a rout on the road in Arlington, Texas.
According to a press release, the Trailblazers shot a combined 59% from 3-point land in the victory.
Three different players (Amber Kartchner, Emily Isaacson, Averi Papa) scored three 3-pointers and Maggie McCord shot 4-for-8 from long distance as part of her 16 total points in the win.
Utah Tech took a 42-34 halftime lead after posting back-to-back 21-17 quarters in the first half.
“Our team did a great job in game plan defense today,” Utah Tech coach JD Gustin said in the press release.
“Our kids rallied behind the challenge of winning another Saturday road game,” he added. “This is a tough trip and our players were resilient enough to get a split. We obviously also found a rhythm from the three which had a big impact on the game.”
Utah Tech shot lights-out in the third quarter, sinking 5-of-6 attempts from behind the arc. That performance opened an insurmountable 67-47 lead going into the final quarter of play. Five Trailblazers scored in double digits in the win, led by Isaacson and Papa, who sank 17 points apiece. McCord’s 16 were next and Kartchner contributed 13 points for the winners. Gillen scored 12.
Utah Tech improved to 6-5 in the Western Athletic Conference, 14-8 overall.
The Trailblazers return home to St. George for a three-game homestand starting off with New Mexico State on Saturday, Feb. 11th at 2 p.m. in Burns Arena.
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