We stopped attacking and Dixie took advantage of that. Still, it is nice to get a win in a tough Region 9 war. —Thunder assistant coach Will Hokensen
ST. GEORGE — With No. 1 in Region 9 and the state on the line, Dixie and Desert Hills played a game of cat-and-mouse Wednesday night.
Unfortunately for the Flyers, they were the mouse.
Brandon Simister scored 10 of his 13 points in the third quarter as the Thunder built an 18-point lead before holding on for a 53-46 victory at the Thunderdome. Ty Rutledge added 10 points and Desert Hills (14-2) grabbed its sixth win against one loss in Region 9 play. Dixie dropped to 5-2 in region and 9-7 overall.
"Dixie's got a great team. They play really hard," Desert Hill's Tyler Ott said. "We knew it was going to be a real battle tonight, especially on the boards. But we made some adjustments at halftime and did better in the second half."
The Thunder actually had a 12-point lead early in the second quarter at 21-9. But a 10-0 run by Dixie made it a close game again. Desert Hills held a 25-23 lead at the half.
With Simister heating up in the third quarter, the Thunder looked like it would turn the game into a blowout once again. Simister hit a spinning layup, a 3-pointer and a short jump shot to help Desert Hills score the first 11 points of the third quarter.
After Dixie cut it to 36-26, the Thunder went on another run, this time a 14-6 edge, to make it 50-32 early in the fourth quarter.
Down, but not out, the Flyers quickly climbed out of that 18-point hole.
Using a zone press, Dixie forced back-to-back-to-back turnovers. Devin Bennett, who scored 15 points in the game, converted all three into layups.
After a 3-point play by Kyler Smith and a Bennett trey, the scoreboard surprisingly read 50-44 with 3:22 to play. A free throw by Ott made it 51-44 with just under two minutes to play.
Dixie then cut it to 51-46 on a pair of free throws by Walker Swensen with 1:49 to play. One of the state's premier big men, the lefty Swensen finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds.
Unfortunately for the Flyers, that would be as close as they could get. Ott hit two more free throws to ice the game for the Thunder.
"Walker is a teammate of mine on Utah Select (AAU) in the summer and he's a great player and a better guy," Ott said. "It's so good to see him out there playing again and working hard."
Swensen missed the first meeting between the two teams (a 52-49 Desert Hills win) with a serious abdomen injury after taking a charge in a game.
The classic battle of Desert Hills' athleticism and shooting prowess (seven 3-pointers) against Dixie's strength and power (the Flyers dominated the rebounding and inside play) was entertaining for the capacity crowd at Desert Hills.
Thunder fans rushed the floor after the final buzzer, congratulating a team that had five players score at least eight points, including Ott, Josh Anderson and Mike Needham.
"We had some lapses where we got real tentative," Thunder assistant coach Will Hokensen said. "We stopped attacking and Dixie took advantage of that. Still, it is nice to get a win in a tough Region 9 war."