Head Coach JR Payne
SUU Strategic Communications

T-Birds Open Season with a Pair Of Exhibition Contests

October 28, 2013
By SUU Strategic Communication

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After making a run to the conference tournament last year, Southern Utah is back for its second shot at the Big Sky. The Thunderbirds start things off this week with a a pair of preseason contests against Dixie State and Western State Colorado. The Redstorm will visit SUU on Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. followed by a matchup with the Mountaineers set to tip off at that same time on Saturday. The T-Birds replace three starters, but feature a deep, talented group headlined by senior forward Carli Moreland and junior guard Hailey Mandelko who has led the team in scoring in each of the past two seasons. Coverage of SUU basketball can be found on www.suutbirds.com.

Dixie State will have a new look this season after graduating its top-three scorers from a year ago and entering its first campaign under new head coach Catherria Turner. The Red Storm posted a record of 12-6 in the Division II PacWest Conference, to go along with an overall mark of 15-13 in 2012-13. Junior guard Kaylah Miller is the team’s top-returner after averaging 8.6 points and 1.1 assists per game last season. Turner was named the head coach in April after spending the previous two seasons at Holy Names University where she compiled a record of 25-32. The Thunderbirds took a 71-59 victory in the two teams’ last meeting on Oct. 31, 2012 as head coach JR Payne improved to 4-0 all-time against DSU.  

Western State Colorado is looking to improve after finishing last season with a record of 5-21 while losing by an average deficit of over 12 points a game. The Mountaineers return their leading scorer in junior forward Jade McIntosh (12.8 ppg) and also get back sharpshooter Charmayne Bellamy who shot nearly 48 percent from the 3-point line in 2012-13. Head coach Van Girard begins his second season with the program after a long successful run at Cal State Dominguez Hills. The T-Birds are 28-7 all-time against WSCU with the most recent triumph coming in the form of a 62-54 victory during the 2006-07 season.  

The Thunderbirds led the Big Sky in rebounding last season, averaging 43.9 boards a game. SUU also held a +5.8 rebounding margin advantage over its opponents, which ranked 41st nationally. Carli Moreland was the teams top rebounder, pulling down 6.3 rpg.

Sophomore guard Hailey Mandelko shot 36.4 percent from behind the arc last season, a mark that put her in the top ten shooters in the Big Sky and among the top 60 players in the nation. She hit six threes at SJSU early in the year and knocked down five against NAU.

The T-Bird offense put up big numbers last season, twice eclipsing the 90-point mark and averaged just over 70 points a game. That number put SUU in the top 32 among the nation’s scoring offenses during the regular season and second in the Big Sky. Southern Utah also ranked 68th in the NCAA shooting 32.9 percent from three.

Southern Utah guard Hailey Mandelko was named among the student-athletes to receive Big Sky honorable mention recognition. As a sophomore, she led SUU during the regular season by scoring 11.9 points a game. Mandelko ranked among the top-shooters in the country, averaging 2.21 3-point field goals a game while hitting 36.0 percent of her attempts from beyond the arc. She also recorded 50 assists, 40 steals and 83 rebounds for the T-Birds while shooting over 78 percent at the foul line. Mandelko was twice named the Big Sky Player of the Week during the 2012-13 season.

Southern Utah’s men’s and women’s basketball teams both competed at the Big Sky Conference Tournament in the school’s first season as a league member. The last times the two programs made a trip to the postseason in the same year before then came back in 2007-08 when the Thunderbirds were in the Summit League.

After being picked to finish last in the Big Sky preseason poll last season, Southern Utah came in sixth in this year’s conference coaches poll. Eastern Washington was selected atop the poll while receiving six first place votes, followed by Montana (3) and Northern Colorado (2). Montana State and Idaho State came in just ahead of SUU while Porland State and North Dakota were also picked to the make it to the postseason tournament.