T-Bird Men Travel to Denver For Afternoon Game

December 19, 2012
By SUU Strategic Communication

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Cal Hanks blocked five shots against North Dakota on Monday night
Cal Hanks blocked five shots against North Dakota on Monday night
Courtesy: SUU Strategic Communications

Southern Utah's men's basketball team plays the final non-conference road game of its 2012-13 season Friday night when the Thunderbirds take on the University of Denver. Following Friday's game SUU will play Big Sky games exclusively until Feb. 23 when the Thunderbirds host a BracketBuster game.

SUU (3-6/1-0 Big Sky) will be looking to build on a 79-67 win over North Dakota in the two teams' Big Sky opener on Monday. The Thunderbirds have won three of their last five games after opening the season 0-4. The Thunderbirds held North Dakota to 30 percent shooting on Monday, their best defensive effort of the season, and got a double-double from Jackson Stevenett, who led the team with 21 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three steals in the win over UND. 

Denver (3-6/0-0 WAC) is coming off a 71-61 loss at Wyoming on Tuesday night. The Pioneers got 26 points from junior forward Chris Udofia against the Cowboys and shot .535 from the field but Wyoming connected at a .647 rate - including 8-of-12 from 3-point range - to remain undefeated at 11-0. Prior to the loss at Wyoming, Denver had put together back-to-back home wins over Mercer (69-40) and Nebraska-Omaha (82-47) after suffering through a four-game skid.

The Game: Southern Utah (3-6/1-0) at Denver (3-6/0-0), 4:00 p.m. (Mountain) in Magness Arena (7,200).

The Series: Southern Utah holds a 5-3 edge in the series with the Pioneers, which began back in 1984 with a 67-45 DU win in Denver in the NAIA District Seven playoffs. The last time the teams met was during the 2006-07 season, when the Thunderbirds swept a home-and-home series with DU, taking a 74-68 win in Denver in the second game of the season, then claiming a 73-63 win in Cedar City. That sweep avenged a Pioneer sweep during the 2003-04 season when DU took a 66-53 home win and an 88-82 victory in Cedar City. The Thunderbirds and Pioneers have split four prior meetings in Denver, 2-2.

TV: There will be no television coverage of Friday's game.

Radio: All of Southern Utah men's basketball games are broadcast live by KSUU (91.1 FM) as well as on the internet at www.power91radio.com. Art Challis is in his 40th season as the Thunderbirds' basketball play-by-play voice. Dr. Challis - who also serves as the chair of SUU's Department of Communication - is joined on home and selected road broadcasts by former SUU standout and current SUU VP for University Relations Dean O'Driscoll.

On The Internet: Audio and video of the game will be available on Pioneer Vision at www.denverpioneers.com. Video web-streaming coverage of all of Southern Utah's home games and Big Sky road games is available on Big Sky TV, at www.bigskytv.org. Audio of all SUU games is available by logging on to the Thunderbird website at www.suutbirds.com or at www.power91radio.com.

Live Stats: Live stats of Friday's game will be available on DU's website, at www.denverpioneers.com. Live stats of Southern Utah's home games are available on the SUU website at www.suutbirds.com. Real-time live stats of SUU's home games are available to working media, contact the athletic media relations office for access information.

Video Highlights: Video highlights of the Thunderbirds' home games will be available to accredited media outlets via SUU's FTP site. For information on obtaining those highlights contact SUU Director of Athletic Media Relations Neil Gardner.

Practice Schedule: The practice schedule calls for the Thunderbirds to work out daily at 3:15 p.m. in the Centrum Arena.

Media Availability: The schedule will remain TBA until the beginning of spring semester, at which time players and coaches will be available Tuesdays at 2:30 p.m.

Next Up: Following Friday's game the Thunderbirds will take a break for the Christmas holiday before returning to the court for a Big Sky matchup against Northern Colorado on Dec. 29 in the Centrum.

Thunderbird Club Luncheons: The Thunderbird Club's weekly no-host luncheon is held Mondays at noon at the Cedar City Crystal Inn. The public is invited to attend the luncheons where Southern Utah's in-season coaches talk about their upcoming contests and review the past week's action.

Captains: This year's captains are seniors Jackson Stevenett and Tyson Koehler.

The Coaches: 

Head Coach Nick Robinson (Stanford, 2005) is 3-6 in his first season at SUU and his first season as a head coach. Coach Robinson came to Southern Utah from LSU, where he spent three seasons on the staff. Prior to his time at LSU Robinson spent a season at William Jewell College and two seasons on the staff at his alma mater, Stanford. During his time as an assistant coach, Robinson helped guide his teams to a combined record of 87-47 and four post-season appearances, including two NCAA, one NIT and one NAIA Division I national tournaments.

Robinson is assisted by Jared Barrett (Eastern Oregon, 1996), Todd Okeson (Nevada, 2005) and Drew Allen (Southern Utah, 2010).

Denver is coached by Joe Scott (Princeton, 1987). Scott, who is in his seventh season at the helm of the Pioneer program, will bring a record of 82-98 at Denver and an overall mark of 171-188 into Friday's game. Prior to taking over the DU program, Coach Scott spent seven seasons as a head coach, four at Air Force and three at Princeton.

Affiliations: Southern Utah is in its first season as a member of the Big Sky Conference. All of SUU's sports except gymnastics and men's golf compete in the Big Sky. Gymnastics is an affiliate member of the WAC while men's golf competes in the American Sky Conference. Denver is in its final season in the Western Athletic Conference. Next season the Pioneers will join SUU's former conference, the Summit League.

The Schedule: The Thunderbirds have played eight non-conference games, three of those were at home, three were true road contests, and two were neutral court match-ups, at the World Vision Classic hosted by Nevada. SUU opened at #21 Gonzaga, then played three games in three days at the World Vision Classic, meeting Green Bay, Cal State Fullerton and host Nevada before opening its home schedule against Carroll College. SUU also played at TCU and at home against San Diego Christian and San Diego. The T-Birds played their first Big Sky game on Monday, against North Dakota, and returns to Big Sky play Dec. 29 when they host Northern Colorado. After Friday's game at Denver SUU has just one non-conference game remaining, a BracketBuster game at home on Feb. 23.

Last Time Out: Jackson Stevenett posted his first double-double of the season and led the Thunderbirds in four of five major statistical categories as the Thunderbirds won their Big Sky debut game, 79-67 over fellow BSC newcomer North Dakota. Stevenett scored 21 points, pulled down 10 rebounds, dished out five assists and picked off three steals to lead the team in all four categories, while Cal Hanks led the team with five blocks. Stevenett tied his career-highs for rebounds and assists (both season-bests) and his three steals were a career-high, while Hanks' five blocks were also a personal-best and Wade Collie poured in a career-high 18 points in coming off the bench for the first time this season. SUU blocked a season-high 12 shots. The Thunderbirds held North Dakota to 30 percent shooting, their best defensive effort of the season. SUU out-rebounded UND 42-38, marking the sixth straight time the 'Birds have pulled down more rebounds than their opponent. SUU also combined to dish out 15 assists, the team's second-highest total of the year.

Cleaning The Glass:

  • The Thunderbirds were out-rebounded in their first three games of the season but have won the battle of the boards in the six subsequent games.
  • SUU has reeled in 40 or more caroms five times this season, one more than last year's total of four 40-rebound games.
  • SUU pulled down a season-high 51 rebounds vs. San Diego Christian and followed that with a 43-board performance against San Diego and 42 more against North Dakota. Jayson Cheesman led the way against SDCC with nine, while Jackson Stevenett and Jaren Jeffery each pulled down eight rebounds vs. the Hawks. Against USD, Stevenett and Damon Heuir each had eight rebounds while Cal Hanks came off the bench to pull down a career-best six. Against UND it was Stevenett with a career-high-tying 10 caroms, while Cheesman pulled down nine.

Block Party:

  • SUU averages a Big Sky-leading six blocks per game, which ranked 14th in the NCAA after Monday's games. The Thunderbirds have rejected 22 shots in their last two games, including 12 against North Dakota, SUU's highest total since the team combined for 13 rejections against Panhandle State on Dec. 14, 2010 and the highest total in the Big Sky so far this season.
  • Cheesman didn't take much time to break into the SUU record books. In his first game as a Thunderbird the junior transfer from Salt Lake Community College blocked five shots, which tied the sixth-highest single-game blocks total in SUU history. With three more against both San Diego and North Dakota, Cheesman has 25 blocks this season and his 2.8 rejections per game average leads the Big Sky Conference. He needs just five to move into 10th place in the SUU single-season blocks record book.
  • Hanks tied Cheesman in sixth place on that single-game list when he came off the bench to block five shots against North Dakota. Hanks has been Mr. Rejection lately, with nine of his 12 blocks on the season coming in the last two games.
  • The Thunderbirds combined to block 10 shots vs. San Diego. Hanks blocked a then-career-high four shots, Cheesman swatted three and Stevenett, Heuir and Chris Nsenki each rejected one Torero attempt.

T-Bird Notes:

  • Stevenett's 29 points at Gonzaga is tied as the highest single-game point total in the Big Sky this season. His 11 field goals made against the Zags is also the highest total in the conference so far this season, while his 11-of-15 shooting night (.733) ranks second-best in the Sky, behind Northern Colorado's Connor Osborne, who hit 8-of-9 shots against Southwest New Mexico.
  • SUU had a season-high six players score in double figures against San Diego Christian. Stevenett led the way with 15, while Heuir and Wade Collie each finished with 13. Cheesman finished with 12 points and both Jaren Jeffery and Jordan Johnson had 10. For Cheesman and Johnson the totals were career-highs while Collie's 13 were a season-high. Johnson was a perfect 5-for-5 from the floor while Collie was 5-of-6 and Hanks, who finished with a then-career-high seven points, was 3-for-3 from the field as SUU finished with a season-best 55.9 field goal percentage.
  • Stevenett has scored 860 points in his three-plus seasons at SUU. He needs 217 to move into 10th place on the school's career scoring list.
  • Cheesman pulled down 13 rebounds at TCU, the third-highest total in the Big Sky this season.
  • SUU leads the Big Sky in rebounding margin at plus-5.4 and also leads the league in defensive rebounds per game with 27.4.
  • SUU combined for a season-high 18 assists vs. SDCC. Freshman A.J. Hess came off the bench to lead the squad with a career-high five dimes vs. the Hawks, while Collie had four and all but two Thunderbirds who saw action dished out at least one.

T-Bird Trivia:

  • SUU has nine lettermen, one squad member and one redshirt returning from last season's team that finished 8-10 (14-17 overall) and in sixth place in the Summit League.
  • Five seniors, three juniors, three sophomores and four freshmen make up the 2012-13 Thunderbird squad.
  • Senior Jackson Stevenett was a second-team all-Summit League honoree last season and he also earned a spot on the five-player Summit League all-tournament team.
  • SUU advanced to the Summit League tournament as the number six seed last year, then upset third-seeded Oakland (84-82) in the tournament's first round before falling to eventual tourney champion South Dakota State (63-47) in the semi-finals.
  • Nick Robinson is the eighth head men's basketball coach in SUU's 50-year history as a four-year institution.
  • Nevada's World Vision Classic was the fourth in-season tournament for the Thunderbirds in as many years. Last year SUU competed at San Diego State's Basketball Travelers Classic, in 2010 SUU traveled to the Great Alaska Shootout and in 2009 the team was in Hawai'i for the Rainbow Classic.
  • Southern Utah plays 14 home games this season, including 10 Big Sky Conference contests and one in the BracketBusters tournament. The 10 conference match-ups are the most ever in a season for SUU, a far cry from the four the team had in 1993-94 and 1994-95 when it was a member of the five-team American West Conference and there were just four home conference dates. The last several years SUU has played nine Summit League games per season in the Centrum.
  • SUU's non-conference road games this season included contests at Gonzaga and vs. Nevada at the World Vision Classic, at TCU and at Denver.
  • SUU and the University of North Dakota are in their first seasons in the Big Sky, making it an 11-team conference. The Thunderbirds had been members of the Summit League (nee. Mid-Continent Conference) for the past 15 seasons before joining the BSC. As members of the 10-team Summit League the Thunderbird men's basketball team qualified for the conference's eight-team post-season tournament 14 of 15 seasons, missing only in 2009-10 when they finished ninth.
  • Seven teams qualify for the Big Sky tournament, which will be hosted by the regular-season champion, March 14-16.
  • SUU is in its 50th season as a four-year institution, its 25th at the NCAA Division I level. Prior to joining the NCAA Division I ranks the University spent two seasons at the Division II level and 23 as a member of the NAIA.

Scouting Denver: The Pioneers are 3-2 at home this season, with wins over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Mercer and Nebraska-Omaha, and losses to California and Colorado State. Denver has attempted 45 percent of its shots from 3-point range (205 of 455) and has converted at a .346 clip from long range. Leading Scorer Royce O'Neale (F, 6-5, 215, So), who averages 15.0 points per game, has hit 15-of-41 threes (.366) while Brett Olson (G, 6-5, 185, So) has hit 23-of-58 (.397) and Chase Hallam (G, 6-5, 215, Sr) has launched 35, connecting 11 times (.314). Chris Udofia (F, 6-6, 200, Jr) is the team's second-leading scorer, at 13.6 ppg, while Olson and Hallam check in at 9.0 and 8.9 ppg, respectively. O'Neale and Udofia are also 1-2 on the Pioneer rebounding chart, with 5.4 and 5.3 caroms per game, and Udofia also leads the team with 3.7 assists per contest. Udofia has also blocked 20 shots so far this season. As a team the Pioneers average 62.2 points per game on .442 shooting while giving up an average of 59.8 points on .463 shooting (.347 threes). The Pioneers have knocked down 73.7 percent of their 3-pointers and have been out-rebounded by an average of 31.9-to-25.9 boards per game.