Club of firsts
Cameron Gooden and Dixie State forced 23 turnovers on Saturday night en route to their first-ever win in the WAC. Courtesy Dixie State Athletics.
Dixie State Grand Canyon News

Gooden, Dixie State Host GCU in First Home Conference Series

Dixie State finally gets to host a WAC foe at the Burns Arena. And with it comes a battle of two of the best point guards in the WAC. Dixie State’s Cameron Gooden and GCU’s Jovan Blacksher Jr. go head-to-head when the Trailblazers and Lopes take the floor on Friday night. 

Gooden averages 12.7 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. Blacksher Jr. averages 11.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists. Considering we all know about the big men from GCU, this weekend’s only conference series could come down to the guard play. And it should be a fun battle to watch. 

Both Grand Canyon and Dixie State have experienced such problems to certain degrees. The Lopes have had four games cancelled or postponed due to Covid. And that doesn’t even begin to cover the problems with consistency. Dixie State meanwhile has had three non-conference games cancelled along with their opening conference series with New Mexico State. So now, both look to this series to get a more solid foothold in conference play. 

GRAND CANYON

When you look at the Lopes season from a distance, it really doesn’t seem all that bad. But as per usual, the devil is in the details. On the one hand, narrow losses to PAC-12 neighbor Arizona State shows the promise. But, the struggle in wins over Tarleton State also show some shortcomings. 

Consistency is the main thing if GCU is to get anywhere in the WAC this season. And Coach Bryce Drew knows that Dixie State is a team you can’t afford to be inconsistent with.

“They’re well coached … defensively they play great help side defense and they do a good job mixing up their defenses.”

GCU has to have big men Asbjorn Midtgaard and Alessandro Lever lead the way if they’re to finally end their tournament drought. Or in terms of this weekend, to win this series, as well as have their defense stay as tough as it has been. 

Many project this group to be an NCAA tournament team, especially with New Mexico State on a down year. It’s plausible, and winning at Dixie State in the difficult Burns Arena is one step closer to that goal. 

DIXIE STATE

Teams starting their D1 campaign this season have been put in a unique position that no other team in college basketball has really ever had to face, at least in recent memory. Back-to-back games and the unpredictable scheduling. Dixie State has had to face all of that.

But excuses are just that, excuses. And head coach Jon Judkins has really made it clear that he wants his team to start on the right foot in this series. That is something they failed to do against UTRGV last weekend. 

“Their pressure really ate us alive … We kind of beat ourselves and we’re trying to do too much ourselves with dribbling the ball instead of passing,” Judkins said. 

Dixie State has shown flashes of potential this season, including a good wins over North Dakota and Denver. But, the Trailblazers have also seen an absolute clobbering from the top-ranked Gonzaga. When it comes to conference play, the key is to get momentum as soon as possible. And their first conference series at home seems to be a great place to start. 

For Dixie to get the win, they will need the usual good performances from Frank Staine and Jacob Nichols. Keep an eye on the matchup between Gooden and Blacksher Jr. as this will have a significant impact on the weekend. 

But, the Trailblazers also need to see an increase in bench production. UTRGV’s depth was what really helped the Vaqueros in their series against Dixie. UTRGV’s bench scored almost twice as much as Dixie’s bench. If Dixie State can steal one in this series, they must see the bench pull their weight. 

Predictions

Anyone can see that GCU is the more talented team on paper. However, this Dixie State squad has shown a ton of fight in their first season at the DI level.

After being blown out in their first matchup against UTRGV, the Trailblazers came back the second game and made an extremely competitive matchup.

Look for similar adjustments and continued improvement from the Trailblazers throughout this season. The home court advantage (albeit much less of one than typical) will give Dixie State a slight edge, and there is potential for the Trailblazers to steal a game this weekend. Look for it to be a split series.

Tip is at 7 p.m. MT and can be seen on the ESPN+. 

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