Southern Utah's men's basketball team hits the road for a pair of Big Sky clashes this weekend. The Thunderbirds, who currently share first place in the league with Weber State and Montana at 2-0, face Northern Arizona Saturday at 3:05 p.m. (MST), then continue on to meet Sacramento State on Monday at 7:05 p.m. (PST).
SUU will be facing the Big Sky's top two scorers in the two games this weekend, as Sac State forward John Dickson averages a league-high 15.80 points per game while NAU guard DeWayne Russell is right behind Dickson at 15.75 ppg.
Saturday's game will air live on FOX Sports Arizona.
SUU (4-7/2-0 Big Sky) will be looking to post-back-to-back wins after edging Northern Colorado, 51-50, at home last Saturday night. The Thunderbirds opened the Big Sky schedule with a 79-67 win over North Dakota on Dec. 17. Jackson Stevenett, who has led the team in scoring and assists the past three games, scored 14 points against the Bears, while Wade Collie added 13, including the game-winner with 12 seconds to play.
Northern Arizona (4-8/1-1 Big Sky) will face Sacramento State on Thursday prior to Saturday's game. NAU is currently on a three-game skid which began with a 62-56 loss at home to Montana on Dec. 19. Since that game the Lumberjacks have also suffered setbacks at Colorado (98-51) and BYU (84-54). The 'Jacks opened their Big Sky schedule with an 87-80 home win over Montana State on Dec. 17.
Sacramento State (6-4/1-1 Big Sky) will have been off since Dec. 21 when the game against NAU rolls around on Thursday. The Hornets lost a 61-60 home decision to Montana the last time out, evening their Big Sky record at 1-1 after opening conference play with a 62-57 home win over Montana State. CSUS is 4-2 at home this season, with the only other loss coming at the hands of arch-rival UC Davis, 87-76, on Nov. 20.
The Games: Southern Utah (4-7/1-0) at Northern Arizona (4-8/1-1 pending the outcome of Thursday's game vs. Sacramento State), Saturday at 3:05 p.m. in the Rolle Activity Center (1,000). Southern Utah at Sacramento State (6-4/1-1, pending the outcome of Thursday's game), 7:05 p.m. (PST) in the Hornet's Nest (1,200).
The Series: NAU holds a 13-8 edge in the series with the Thunderbirds, including a season sweep the last time the teams met, during the 2002-03 season. The Lumberjacks took a 73-56 win in Cedar City, then completed the sweep with an 85-68 win in Flagstaff later in the season. Southern Utah holds an 11-6 advantage in the series with Sacramento State, including a 76-51 win the last time the teams met, during the 2008-09 season. SUU won the last meeting in Sacramento, 57-54, in the second game of the 2007-08 season.
TV: Saturday's game will be televised live by FOX Sports Arizona. There will be no live television for Monday'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: 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 Monday's game the Thunderbirds will return home to host Weber State on Jan. 10 and Idaho State on Jan. 12.
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.
Head Coach Nick Robinson (Stanford, 2005) is 4-7 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.
Northern Arizona is coached by Jack Murphy (Arizona, 2005). Coach Murphy is in his first season at NAU and his first season overall as a head coach.
Sacramento State is coached by Brian Katz (Sacramento State, 1980). Coach Katz brought an overall record of 28-87 into his fifth season at CSUS and his fifth 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 Arizona and Sacramento State are also members 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 and they have played two conference games at home. 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 Big Sky games on Dec. 17, against North Dakota and Dec. 29 against Northern Colorado. SUU has just one non-conference game remaining, a BracketBuster match-up at home on Feb. 23.
Last Time Out: SUU bounced back from a road loss at Denver to upend Northern Colorado, 51-50, after A.J. Hess stole an in-bounds pass, then fed the ball to Wade Collie, who scored on a layup to complete a 9-2 run and keep the Thunderbirds undefeated in the Big Sky and tied atop the standings. SUU out-rebounded the Bears 45-32 and posted its first win of the season after trailing at the half, trailing in the last minute and when scoring fewer than 60 points. The Thunderbirds also notched their first win when the opponent turned the ball over more (UNC had 18 turnovers to SUU's 14), when the opponent's bench outscored the 'Birds (14-8), in a game decided by seven or fewer points and when the opponent shot a better percentage from the floor (.380-to-.339),
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 two categories as well. Jayson Cheesman ranks 26th in blocks per game with an average of 2.55 while Jackson Stevenett is 41st in free throw percentage at .872. As a team the Thunderbirds are 18th in the country with 5.6 blocks per game and are 49th in rebounding margin, at plus-6.5.
T-Birds In The Big Sky: Cheesman leads the Big Sky in blocks per game with 2.5 and Stevenett is third in the league in free throw percentage at .872. Stevenett is also sixth in scoring at 14.1 points per game and 11th in rebounding with 5.80, while Cheesman ranks 10th in rebounding with 5.82 rpg and in defensive rebounds with 4.3. Wade Collie is fifth in 3-point percentage at .429, Cal Hanks is ninth in blocks per game with 1.3 and Damon Heuir is 12th in scoring at 12.9 ppg. The team leads the BSC in rebounding margin (+6.5) and blocks (5.6 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 eight subsequent games.
- SUU has reeled in 40 or more caroms six times this season, already two more than last year's total of four 40-rebound games, including 45 against Northern Colorado, the second-highest total of the season.
- 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.
- 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 campaign.
- SUU averages a Big Sky-leading 5.6 blocks per game, which ranked 18th in the NCAA heading into the week. The Thunderbirds have rejected 35 shots in their last four 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.
- Jayson 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 28 total blocks this season Cheesman needs just two to move into 10th place in the SUU single-season blocks record book.
- Cal 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 had blocked 11 shots (of his total 14) in the three games prior to the Northern Colorado game, but he went without a rejection against the Bears.
- SUU tallied five blocks against Northern Colorado.
- SUU is the first team to win its first two Big Sky Conference games in its first season of play since Cal State Northridge back in 1996-97. CSN lost its third game to Montana State. The last team to win its first three games in its first season in the league was Boise State, which went on to start out 4-0 back in 1970-71.
- 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 Arizona: The Lumberjacks, who were tabbed in the pre-season Big Sky polls to finish 11th (the only team picked below SUU in the polls) are currently tied for third place in the league with a .500 record and they have the fifth-best overall mark in the conference, at .333. The 'Jacks are 2-2 at home this season, with wins over Sam Houston State (77-70) and Montana State (87-70) and losses to Loyola-Marymount (92-86 in overtime) and Montana (62-56). Two Lumberjacks carry double-figure scoring averages, guards DeWayne Russell (5-11, 155, Fr) and Gabe Rogers (6-2, 175, Sr), who check in at 15.8 and 14.5 points per game, respectively. Russell, who is second in the Big Sky in scoring, also paces the 'Jacks in assists with an average of 3.6 per game. Gaellan Bewernick (F, 6-6, 215, So) leads the team with 5.5 rebounds per game while chipping in 6.2 points, while Max Jacobsen (F, 6-8, 230, Jr) has averaged 7.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game and Stallon Salvidar (G, 6-0, 185, Sr) averages 6.0 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. As a team NAU averages 65.9 points per game on .421 shooting (.421 threes) while giving up 78.2 ppg on .469 shooting (.360 threes). The Lumberjacks have converted 69.4 percent of their free throws and have been out-rebounded by an average margin of 38.6-to-33.5.
Scouting Sacramento State: The Hornets - who were tabbed to finish seventh in the BSC by the coaches and eighth by the media in the pre-season polls - have played six home games, more than any other Big Sky school heading into Thursday night's play. Sac State has fared well at home, with four wins against two losses. The wins came against UC Merced (96-62), Cal State Bakersfield (85-67), Dominican (77-68) and Montana State (62-57), while the losses came at the hands of UC Davis (87-76) and Montana (61-60). Four Hornets carry double-figure scoring averages, led by John Dickson's (F, 6-6, 200, Sr) Big Sky-leading 15.8 points per game. Mikh McKinney (G, 6-1, 165, So) checks in at 13.5 ppg, while Dylan Garrity (G, 6-2, 175, So) averages 13.0 ppg and Konner Veteto (C, 6-8, 290, Sr) is at 11.1. Veteto also leads the team with 6.5 rebounds per game, while Jackson Carbajal (G, 6-3, 190, Jr) averages 5.2 and Dickson 5.8 caroms per contest. Garrity is the team's top assists man, with 5.5 per game, which is tied atop the Big Sky charts. As a team the Hornets score at a 72.8 points per game clip on .422 shooting (.370 threes) while allowing an average of 69.3 ppg on .419 shooting (.313 threes). Sacramento State has been out-rebounded by an average of 38.5-to-37.6 per game and has knocked down 72.2 percent of its free throws.