Southern Utah's men's basketball team plays the final game of 2012 Saturday when the Thunderbirds host Northern Colorado in a Big Sky contest at 7:35 p.m. in the Centrum.
SUU (3-7/1-0 Big Sky) will be looking to move to 2-0 in conference play after opening the league slate with a 79-67 win over North Dakota on Dec. 17. SUU will also look to bounce back from a 72-47 setback at Denver on Dec. 21 in the team's final non-conference road game of the season. The Thunderbirds held North Dakota to 30 percent shooting, 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.
Northern Colorado (3-6/1-0 Big Sky) is also looking to get off to a 2-0 start in league play. The Bears opened Big Sky competition with a 75-66 win at North Dakota on Dec. 21, breaking open a close game in the second half when they outscored UND 44-35. That win gave UNC back-to-back wins as the Bears had posted a 90-62 home victory over Tabor College on Dec. 17 to snap a six-game skid.
The Game: Northern Colorado (3-6/1-0) at Southern Utah (3-7/1-0), Saturday at 7:35 p.m. in the Centrum Arena (5,300). The game will be the second in a double-header which features SUU's women hosting Utah Valley in the first contest.
The Series: Saturday's game will be the first between the Thunderbirds and Bears as Big Sky opponents and just the second meeting overall. Northern Colorado came out on top of the first test, a 73-51 win at Hawai'i in the 2009 Outrigger Rainbow Classic.
TV: There will be no television coverage of the 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: 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 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 Saturday's game the Thunderbirds will be off for a week before taking on Northern Arizona on Jan. 5 in their first Big Sky road test. The team will then travel to Sacramento, Calif. for a match-up with Sacramento State on Jan. 7 before returning home to host Weber State on Jan. 10.
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.
Head Coach Nick Robinson (Stanford, 2005) is 3-7 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).
Northern Colorado is coached by B.J. Hill (Grand View, 1996). Coach Hill is 33-36 in his third season at the helm of the Bear program and his third season overall as a head coach.
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. Northern Colorado is also a member of the Big Sky Conference.
The Schedule: The Thunderbirds have played nine non-conference games, three at home, four true road contests, and two neutral court match-ups. 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 non-conference games at TCU, at Denver, and at home against San Diego Christian and San Diego. The T-Birds played their first Big Sky game on Dec. 17, against North Dakota. SUU has just one non-conference game remaining, a BracketBuster match-up at home on Feb. 23.
Last Time Out: Jackson Stevenett scored 12 points and pulled down four rebounds while Jayson Cheesman had 10 points and six boards but the Thunderbirds, who were playing without guard Damon Heuir (injury) and went without Wade Collie (foul trouble) for most of the first half, finished with their lowest point total of the season in a 72-47 loss at Denver. DU hit 26-of-47 shots for the second-highest shooting percentage SUU has allowed this season (.553), and the T-Birds committed 22 turnovers, their highest total since giving it away 22 times at Nevada on Nov. 18. Denver slowly pulled away in the final 10 minutes of the first period to take a 40-20 lead at the break, then held off SUU's charges in the second half.
T-Birds In The National Ranks: SUU has two players ranked among the NCAA's top-50 this week, and the team ranks in the top-50 in one category. Jackson Stevenett is 19th in free throw percentage at .909, while Jayson Cheesman is 22nd in blocks per game with an average of 2.6. As a team the Thunderbirds are 15th in the country with 5.7 blocks per game and are 58th in rebounding margin, at plus-5.8.
T-Birds In The Big Sky: Cheesman leads the Big Sky in blocks per game with 2.6 and Stevenett is second in the league in free throw percentage at .909. Stevenett is also sixth in scoring at 14.1 points per game, eighth in rebounds per game with 6.0, and ninth in defensive rebounds per game at 4.2, while Cheesman ranks 13th in rebounding with 5.6 rpg. Wade Collie is tied for fifth in 3-point percentage at .435 and ninth in field goal percentage at .508, Cal Hanks is tied for seventh in blocks per game with 1.4 and Damon Heuir is eighth in scoring at 13.9 ppg. The team leads the BSC in rebounding margin (+5.8) and blocks (5.7 bpg) and is second in defensive rebounds (26.6 drpg).
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 seven 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.
- Although they out-rebounded Denver the Thunderbirds finished with just 31 caroms against the Pioneers, SUU's lowest total since a season-low 28-board effort against Cal State Fullerton in the third game of the season.
- SUU averages a Big Sky-leading 5.7 blocks per game, which ranked 15th in the NCAA heading into the week. The Thunderbirds have rejected 25 shots in their last three 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. The Thunderbirds combined to block 10 shots vs. San Diego. Cal Hanks blocked a then-career-high four shots, Jayson Cheesman swatted three and Jackson Stevenett, Damon Heuir and Chris Nsenki each rejected one Torero attempt.
- 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 26 total blocks this season Cheesman needs just four 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 11 of his 14 blocks on the season coming in the last three games.
- Jackson 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 University of the Southwest.
- SUU had a season-high six players score in double figures against San Diego Christian. Stevenett led the way with 15, while Damon Heuir and Wade Collie each finished with 13. Jayson 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 872 points in his three-plus seasons at SUU. He needs 205 more 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 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.
- 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 the T-Birds 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 Northern Colorado: The Bears are currently tied with SUU in third place in the Big Sky standings at 1-0. UNC opened the season with a 127-81 win over University of the Southwest, then lost six straight before posting back-to-back wins over Tabor and North Dakota. The win at UND was the Bears' first on the road this season, where they are 1-5 heading into Saturday's game. Three Bears carry double-figure scoring averages, led by Tevin Svihovec (G, 6-2, 190, So) at 12.1 ppg. Derrick Barden (F, 6-5, 215, Jr) averages 10.8 ppg while Tate Unruh (G, 6-4, 175, Jr) chips in 10.1 ppg and Paul Garnica (G, 6-0, 160, Jr) is close to double figures at 9.8 ppg. Barden is the team's leading rebounder, with 7.1 boards per game, while Svihovec averages a team-high 2.8 assists per game. As a team the Bears average 72.2 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting (.341 threes) while allowing an average of 72.4 points on .411 shooting (.305 threes). Northern Colorado has kocked down 66.7 percent of its free throws and has out-rebounded its opponents by an average of 36.8-to-35.8 per game.