Sophomore guard Ali Abdou Dibba leads the Wildcats to outlast Utah Tech in a neck-in-neck battle for their third conference win, 81-76.
“Ali’s a good player man,” head coach Brette Tanner said. “He’s been playing tremendously in the last few games and he’s a guy that I could really get a lot of free throws tonight and he did.”
After having a hard loss against Grand Canyon Thursday, the Wildcats were in desperate need of a win to pull back their momentum. Now, just behind Tarleton State in the Western Athletic Standings, ACU moves into the middle of conference play with an 11-11 overall record with a 3-6 conference record.
Utah Tech, who was not too far behind the Wildcats, also had a tough loss the game before, leading them to a 10-12 overall record with a 2-7 conference record.
“We didn’t play great today,” Tanner said. “but we played with a lot of confidence and with a win, that’s something you want to be able to come back and talk about tomorrow.”
The game started off with ACU gaining the lead right from tipoff. The Wildcats started off on a four-point run, yet the Trailblazers were able to turn it back around and tie it at 4-4 three minutes into the game. Despite ACU being able to jump ahead from there, not two minutes later, Utah Tech was able to tie it once again.
From that moment, the Wildcats were able to stay ahead and keep the lead for most of the first half, by pulling ahead by seven at one point. With 1:42 left to go, the score was tied at 36-36, putting pressure on both teams to determine who was going to take the lead at the half. With 30 seconds left to go, both teams managed to score and tie it back up at 38-38 but the Trailblazers were able to pull ahead by two with five seconds to go, leading 40-38 going into halftime.
After the game, Tanner said the senior guard Damien Daniels served as a spark for the Wildcat offense not just in the first half, but during the whole game.
“We wouldn’t be possible without him staying for the way he does and attacking the basket,” Tanner said. “I’ve never coached a player harder than I’ve coached Damien Daniels. That dude still has my back every single day ever.”
Coming back from half, the Trailblazers were able to pull ahead by five before letting the Wildcats score. Yet, five minutes in, ACU was able to bring it back and tie it. Within the next two minutes, the score was tied two more times before Utah Tech took the lead. Not much longer until the Wildcats ran away with it and held the lead for the rest of the game. Despite the Trailblazers pulling the lead in tight by one point with a minute left in the game, ACU was able to secure the win with a five-point lead, 81-76.
Within this game alone, the scores were tied eight times with eight lead changes. Throughout the game, there was a total of 53 personal fouls, with four players from Utah Tech fouling out and five players from ACU tallying four fouls each.
Dibba lead the Wildcats with 19 points and made 9-11 free throws with securing five rebounds. Following close behind, Daniels and redshirt freshman forward Leonardo Bettiol both recorded 17 points, with Daniels leading with six rebounds. Bettiol’s performance ultimately allowed him to earn the WAC’s Freshman of the Week honors
“Today was kind of like my first big time on a big game,” Bettiol said. “I’m not gonna lie, when I go there at first, I feel like a lot of pressure on me but I would say, you know, I play pretty good so we got it done.”
The Wildcats head to Seattle, Washington to take on Seattle U for the first time this season at 9 p.m. Wednesday in Climate Pledge Arena, streaming on ESPN+ and ACU Sports Network.
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