Southern Utah's men's basketball team wraps up the longest true road stretch of its season Saturday afternoon when the Thunderbirds take on Eastern Washington in Cheney, Wash.
The Thunderbirds (10-14/8-7 Big Sky) will be looking to get back on track after suffering back-to-back defeats at Weber State and Portland State. SUU's longest winning streak in 11 years, five in a row, was snapped in a 75-58 setback at WSU last Saturday night, and Thursday the T-Birds gave up their most points in the last 22 games in a 90-69 loss at PSU. SUU had reeled off four straight home wins, over PSU (76-63), EWU (69-55), Sacramento State (79-67) and Northern Arizona (78-67), as well as an 81-79 overtime win at Idaho State before the loss to the Wildcats.
SUU remains in third place in the Big Sky, however, tied with North Dakota and one game ahead of Montana State and Sacramento State.
Eastern Washington (7-17/5-9 Big Sky) has had a week to prepare for the Thunderbirds. In their previous game the Eagles outlasted Northern Arizona in overtime, 77-74, last Saturday in Flagstaff, Ariz. The Eagles have won three of five games since suffering the 69-55 loss to SUU in Cedar City on Jan. 26. EWU bounced back from that loss by claiming back-to-back home wins over Portland State (76-65) and Montana State (72-68) before losing at home to Montana (65-46). The Eagles also lost at Sacramento State (61-55) before the win at NAU.
The Game: Southern Utah (10-14/8-7) at Eastern Washington (7-17/5-9), Saturday at 2:05 p.m. (PST) at Reese Court (6,000), Cheney, Wash.
The Series: Southern Utah holds a 4-1 edge in the series with the Eagles, including a 1-1 mark in Cheney. The Thunderbirds won the first game in Cheney, an 87-67 triumph on during the 1992-93 season but the Eagles prevailed in the last game on their home court, 69-65 during the 1993-94 campaign. SUU won the last meeting between the two, a 69-55 win in Cedar City earlier this season.
TV: Saturday's game will be televised, but only in Washington, on SWX Digital.
Radio: All of Southern Utah men's basketball games are broadcast live by KSUU (91.1 FM). Art Challis is in his 40th season as the Thunderbirds' basketball play-by-play voice. Dr. Challis - 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 is 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: Players and coaches will be available Tuesdays at 2:30 p.m. unless travel schedules dictate otherwise. On weeks when the team is traveling on Tuesday the interviews will be held on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m.
Thunderbirds To Host Northridge In BracketBuster: SUU will host Cal State Northridge in the BracketBuster tournament at 7:35 p.m. on Feb. 23. The Matadors and Thunderbirds competed against each other in the American West Conference (along with current Big Sky member Sacramento State) during the 1994-95 and 1995-96 seasons.
Coming Up: SUU hosts Cal State Northridge next Saturday in the Ramada BracketBuster game, then wraps up its home slate against Montana State (Feb. 28) and Montana (March 4) before closing the regular season with a trip to Northern Colorado (March 7) and North Dakota (March 9).
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.
Heuir Named BSC Player of the Week: SUU's Damon Heuir earned his second Big Sky Conference Player of the Week award following his play in the Thunderbirds' wins over Sacramento State and Northern Arizona last week. Heuir averaged 27.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game in the two wins. He scored 28 points with seven rebounds, seven assists and a steal in the team's 79-67 win over Sacramento State, then scored 27 points with four rebounds, an assist and a steal two nights later against the Lumberjacks. Heuir's first BSC Player of the Week award came after he scored 30 points to lead SUU to its first road win of the season, a 90-77 victory at Northern Arizona on Jan. 5. That week he shared the honors with Weber State's Scott Bamforth.
Head Coach Nick Robinson (Stanford, 2005) is 8-14 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 1-0 vs. EWU.
Jim Hayford (Azusa Pacific, 1990) is 20-27 in his second season at Eastern Washington and 274-111 in his 14th season overall as a head coach. Prior to taking over at EWU, Coach Hayford spent two seasons at University of Sioux Falls and 10 at Whitworth, where he led his team to six NCAA Division III tournament appearances. Coach Hayford is 0-1 vs. SUU.
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. Eastern Washington is also a member of the Big Sky.
The Schedule: The Thunderbirds have played nine non-conference games, three at home, four true road contests, and two neutral court match-ups. They have played four conference games at home and two on the road. 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. SUU has one non-conference game remaining, next week's BracketBuster match-up against CS Northridge.
Last Time Out: Life on the road was not good to SUU for the second straight night Thursday as the Thunderbirds hit just 20-of-60 shots, including 4-of-18 from 3-point range, in a 90-69 loss at Portland State. Portland State, on the other hand converted at a .519 rate (28-of-54) and had six players finish in double-figures, including all five starters. The Thunderbirds led just once in the game, 11-10 after Cal Hanks scored on a short jumper with 13:59 to play in the first half, but the Vikings responded to that with a 9-0 run. SUU pulled back within 24-21 on a Chris Nsenki 3-pointer with 7:15 to play in the half, and SUU stayed close through the remainder of the half but trailed 40-34 at the break. PSU's halftime lead came after the Vikings hit 15-of-32 shots, including 3-of-5 from 3-point range, while SUU hit just 9-of-25 shots, 3-of-8 from long distance. The Vikings also out-rebounded the Thunderbirds, 22-17, in the first half. At the end of the game PSU wound up out-boarding the Thunderbirds 37-36 Southern Utah got the first basket of the second half on a Jayson Cheesman hook shot, and pulled within 46-44 on a Damon Heuir three but the Vikings went on an 18-4 run to build a 64-46 advantage with 11:33 to play and the closest the Thunderbirds got the rest of the way was 13, at 82-69 after a short jumper by Jackson Stevenett with 2:36 to go. Stevenett led all scorers with 26 points while Heuir finished with 14 but the two combined to go 11-of-31 from the floor, 8-of-17 by Stevenett and 3-of-14 by Heuir. Cheesman had a game-high nine rebounds.
T-Birds In The National Ranks: (Through Monday) The Thunderbirds have three players ranked in the top-100 in the NCAA through Thursday's games, and the team ranks among the top 100 in three categories as well. Jackson Stevenett ranks 32nd in free throw percentage (.868) and 84th in scoring (17.0 ppg) while Jayson Cheesman ranks 36th in blocks per game with an average of 2.3 and Damon Heuir is 91st in scoring at 16.9 ppg. As a team the Thunderbirds are 23rd in the country with 5.2 blocks per game, 49th in rebounding margin (plus 5.0) and 51st in free throw percentage (.732).
T-Birds In The Big Sky:
(Through Monday) Stevenett and Heuir are 2-3 in scoring in the conference when all games are considered. Stevenett averages 17.0 points per game while Heuir checks in at 16.9 ppg. Stevenett is also second in free throw percentage at .875, sixth in rebounding with 6.09 per game, seventh in offensive rebounds per game (2.0) and 11th in defensive rebounds per game (4.0). Heuir is also fifth in 3-pointers per game (2.1) and ninth in free throw percentage (.791), while Cheesman is second in blocks per game with 2.3 when all games are considered, seventh in rebounding with 6.086 rpg and seventh in defensive rebounds with 4.4 per game. Cal Hanks is seventh in blocks per game with 1.1. The team leads the conference in offensive rebounds (12.1 rpg), and is second in field goal percentage defense (.424), in blocks (5.2 per game), in rebounding margin (plus-5.0) and in defensive rebounds (26.0 drpg).
When only conference games are considered, Stevenett is second and Heuir is fourth in the Big Sky with 19.1 and 18.5 points per game respectively. Heuir is fourth in 3-pointers per game (2.4) and tied for fifth in free throw percentage (.833) while Stevenett is fourth in free throw percentage at .863. Cheesman is sixth and Stevenett is ninth in rebounding with 6.6 and 6.4 caroms per game, respectively, with Stevenett fifth in offensive rebounds (2.3 rpg) and Cheesman seventh in defensive rebounds (4.9). Cheesman is also third in blocks per game (2.1) and Hanks is eighth in blocks (1.1). Stevenett also ranks ninth in field goal percentage (.513). The team leads the league in offensive rebounds (12.7 pg), is second in field goal percentage defense (.394), defensive rebounds (26.0 per game) and rebounding margin (plus-4.3), and is third in scoring average (70.1 ppg), scoring margin (plus-2.4 ppg), blocked shots per game (5.4) and 3-point defense (.322).
Moving Up The Ranks:
Jackson Stevenett is in position to become only the third T-Bird to rank in the career top-10 in both scoring and rebounding. Stevenett has 1,144 points in his three-plus seasons as a Thunderbird, good for eighth on SUU's career scoring sheet. He needs 55 points to move past current Montana assistant Kerry Rupp (1975-77) to move into seventh place on the list and 62 to surpass former teammate Davis Baker (2007-10) for sixth. He also has 458 career rebounds, which ranks 11th all time at SUU. With his six boards at Portland State he moved out of a tie with Marc Wilson (1977-79) at 452 and he needs six caroms to move into the SUU career top-10, where Davor Marcelic (1988-92) is 10th with 463. The only other two players currently in the top-10 in both scoring and rebound are Richard Barton and Robert "Dunn" Lee. Barton is second on SUU's career scoring list with 1,419 points and is fourth on its rebounding list with 557 while Lee is second in rebounding with 652 boards and fifth in scoring with 652 points. Barton played in 1986-87 then returned to the team after an LDS church mission to lay the 1990-93 seasons while Lee played from 1974 to 1977.
Jayson Cheesman has 54 rejections this season, which is third on SUU's single-season list and is seventh on the career list. He had one block at PSU to move out of a tie with Sean Allen (1993-94) on the single-season list and now needs six to tie Allen's 60 in 1994-95 for second place and 10 to tie Matt Hodgson (2009-10) atop the single-season list. Next up on the career chart is Donnie Jackson, who rejected 55 shots from 2001 to 2003.
Cleaning The Glass:
- The Thunderbirds have won the battle of the boards 17 times this season but two of the times they were out-rebounded were the last two: at Weber State and at Portland State. SUU was out-rebounded in their first three games then won the battle of the boards in nine straight contests before Sacramento State had a 41-38 edge in the first meeting between the two teams and Weber State held a 46-41 advantage in the first meeting. SUU out-rebounded each subsequent opponent, a stretch of eight games, before Weber State pulled in 39 caroms to 33 for the 'Birds.
- SUU has reeled in 40 or more caroms 11 times this season. Last year's team had a total of four 40-rebound games.
- SUU pulled down a season-high 51 rebounds vs. San Diego Christian. The team's high mark vs. a Division I foe was 45, against Northern Colorado.
- SUU averages 5.2 blocks per game, which ranks second in the Big Sky. The Thunderbirds have rejected 124 shots this season, 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 were in double-digits against San Diego as well, when they blocked 10 shots.
- Jayson Cheesman has had two five-block and one four-block games this season, with both five-block efforts coming on the road. Cheesman didn't take much time to break into the SUU record books. In his first game as a Thunderbird, at Gonzaga, he blocked five shots, which tied the sixth-highest single-game blocks total in SUU history. He swatted five more at Weber State last week. The four-block effort came at home against San Diego Christian.
- 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 has 25 blocks so far and needs eight to move into SUU's single-season top-10.
- With Cheesman's five blocks at Weber State SUU has five or more blocks in a game 15 times this season.
- SUU had four blocks against Eastern Washington, three by Cheesman, but the Eagles had seven, with three players swatting a pair of shots. It was just the second time this season - Green Bay was the other - that the Thunderbirds had more shots blocked than they blocked themselves.
- The Thunderbirds had a season-low 10 turnovers at Weber State, unfortunately they also shot a season-low 29.1 percent. Jackson Stevenett hit 5-of-12 shots, 42 percent, no other T-Bird was better than .333. The team also had just six assists vs. the Wildcats, its second-fewest in 2012-13.
- Wade Collie played seven minutes at Weber State after missing the Idaho State game and playing just two minutes at home against Northern Arizona. Collie has been sidelined by a thigh injury suffered in practice the day before the NAU game.
- Damon Heuir tied his career-high with eight assists at Idaho State, then went without a dime at Weber State. The WSU game was just his third without an assist this year.
- SUU's 81-79 win at Idaho State was the team's first overtime game this season and thus Coach Nick Robinson's first win in overtime. Both of the Thunderbird/Bengal games went down to the wire, with ISU winning 54-53 in Cedar City before SUU took the win in Pocatello.
- A.J. Hess scored a career-best 12 points at ISU, including a big 3-pointer down the stretch in regulation and two free throws with four seconds to play in overtime to clinch the win.
- Chris Nsenki tied his career-high with 10 points at ISU, including a perfect 3-for-3 night from 3-point range.
- Northern Arizona is probably happy to see the last of Heuir. The senior guard scored 30 points in the first match-up between SUU and NAU - the highest total in the Big Sky until NAU's Gabe Rogers poured in 35 vs. North Dakota on Jan. 26 - and he poured in another 27 last Saturday. In his two games against the Lumberjacks, Heuir hit 15-of-30 shots, 7-of-12 3-pointers and hit 20-of-24 free throws. He also averaged four rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.5 steals and blocked a shot against NAU.
- Heuir has scored in double figures in 12 straight games, with 14 or more points in each game and four 20-point-plus efforts. Jackson Stevenett has posted double-figures in 17 straight, including seven during the streak of 20 or more. Until Wade Collie came off the bench to score a team-high 18 against Eastern Washington either Heuir or Stevenett had led the team in every game this year. Heuir and Stevenett have each led the team in scoring 11 times this season.
- Stevenett notched his third double-double of the season vs. NAU with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
- Stevenett hit the 1,000 career points mark with 19 at Montana, which give him exactly 1,000. He is just the 11th player in SUU history to break the 1,000 point mark and just the third to cross that threshold since Richard Barton finished his career with 1,419 points in 1993 (third on SUU's all-time list). Jeff Monaco finished his career in 2001 with 1,568 points (second) while Davis Baker finished his in 2010 with 1,205 (sixth).
- Julian Scott, who missed five games with a foot injury, then played in the NAU, Sac State, Weber State and Idaho State games, was lost for the season with a knee injury suffered in practice January 18.
- The Thunderbirds had just four players foul out of the nine non-conference games (including two at TCU) then had 13 disqualifications in the first eight Big Sky contests, including two at both Northern Arizona and Sac State and three against Weber State and at Montana. The 'Birds went without a disqualification for three games before Jordan Johnson was disqualified at ISU. Cal Hanks then fouled out at Weber State to give the team disqualifications in the last two games.
- SUU was the first team to win its first three Big Sky Conference games in its first season of play since Boise State started out 4-0 back in 1970-71.
- Stevenett has scored a career-high 29 points twice this season, at Gonzaga and again in the first game vs. Weber State. Stevenett's 11 field goals made against the Zags is tied as the second-highest total in the conference this season.
Scouting Eastern Washington: The Eagles, who picked up their first road win of the season last week at Northern Arizona, are 5-5 at home, 4-3 in conference games. Their home wins in league have come against Idaho State, Northern Arizona, Portland State and Montana State, with the losses coming at the hands of Weber State, Sacramento State, and Montana. Justin Crosgile leads the team with 14.7 points and 5.5 assists per game but he has not played in the last 11 games because of an injury. Freshman Venky Jois averages 13.1 points per game and pulls down a Big Sky-leading 9.4 rebounds per game with 50 blocks while Collin Chiverton, who missed six games earlier this season, averages 10.4 ppg. Kevin Winford averages 2.3 assists per game, tops among players who have been playing recently. As a team the Eagles average 66.7 points on .397 shooting (.345 threes) while giving up 73.7 points on .436 shooting (.358 threes). EWU has converted 64.4 percent of its free throws and has been out-rebounded by an average of 40.1-to-35.4 caroms per game. The Eagles also lead the Big Sky with 5.3 blocks per game, 5.8 in conference games, as in addition to Jois, Martin Sieferth is a prolific shot-blocker, with 42 rejections on the season.