Wildcats pull out close win against Utah Tech

Ali Abdou Dibba, a second-year warden from Stockholm, Sweden, rebuffs. (Photo by Daniel Curd)

Sophomore guard Ali Abdou Dibba leads the Wildcats to outlast Utah Tech in a neck-and-neck battle for their third conference win (81-76).

“Ali is a good player man,” said head coach Brette Tanner. “He’s played tremendously in the last couple of games and he’s a guy I’ve really been able to get a lot of free throws with tonight and he’s done it.”

After a tough loss to Grand Canyon on Thursday, the Wildcats desperately needed a win to stem their momentum. Now just behind Tarleton State in the Western Athletic Standing, ACU is moving into the middle of conference play with an 11-11 overall record and a 3-6 conference record.

Utah Tech, not too far behind the Wildcats, had also previously lost the game heavily, leading them to a 10-12 overall record with a 2-7 conference record.

“We didn’t play great today,” said Tanner. “But we played with a lot of confidence and with a win, you want to be able to come back and talk about that tomorrow.”

The game started with ACU taking the lead right after the tip. The Wildcats started on a four-point run, but the Trailblazers were able to turn it over and equalize 4-4 three minutes into the game. Although ACU was able to jump forward from there, Utah Tech was able to equalize again less than two minutes later.

From that moment on, the Wildcats were able to stay ahead and hold the lead for most of the first half, taking a seven-point lead at one point. With 1:42 to go it was tied 36:36, putting pressure on both sides to determine who would take the lead at half-time. With 30 seconds left, both teams managed to score and level again at 38-38, but the Trailblazers were able to take a two-point lead with five seconds left and go into halftime at 40-38.

After the game, Tanner said senior guard Damien Daniels served as a spark for the Wildcat offense not just in the first half but throughout the game.

“We wouldn’t be possible without him staying the way he’s doing and attacking the basket,” Tanner said. “I’ve never coached a player harder than Damien Daniels. This guy still has my back every day.”

Coming back from halftime, the Trailblazers took a five lead before letting the Wildcats score. However, after five minutes, ACU was able to bring it back and tie it. There were two more draws within the next two minutes before Utah Tech took the lead. Not long before the Wildcats ran away with it and held the lead for the rest of the game. Though the Trailblazers gained a point from the lead with a minute left, ACU secured the win by a five-point lead, 81-76.

In this game alone there were eight draws with eight lead changes. There were a total of 53 personal fouls throughout the game, with four Utah Tech players absent and five ACU players totaling four fouls each.

Dibba led the Wildcats with 19 points and hit 9-11 free throws with five rebounds. Close behind, Daniels and redshirt newcomer Leonardo Bettiol both had 17 points, with Daniels leading with six rebounds. Bettiol’s performance eventually allowed him to earn the WAC’s Freshman of the Week award

“Today was like my first big time at a big game,” said Bettiol. “I’m not going to lie, when I first go there I feel like there’s a lot of pressure on me, but I would say, you know, I’m playing pretty well, so we did it.”

The Wildcats travel to Seattle, Wash. to face Seattle U for the first time this season on Wednesday at 9 p.m. at the Climate Pledge Arena and stream on ESPN+ and ACU Sports Network.

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