Southern Utah’s men’s basketball plays its final non-conference home game Saturday when the Thunderbirds host UNLV at 5:05 p.m. (MST) in the Centrum.
SUU (1-5/0-0 Big Sky) will be looking to get back on track at home after playing four of their last five on the road and coming out on the wrong end of each of those decisions. Since opening the season with an 85-78 home win over Arizona Christian, the young Thunderbirds have been unable to break back into the winning column, most recently falling at Cal State Northridge, 84-57 on Dec, 3.
UNLV (3-4/0-0 Mountain West) is coming off a 63-58 loss at No. 1 Arizona last Saturday. The Rebels, who stymied the top-ranked Wildcats for most of the game on Saturday, opened the season with six straight home games before going on the road to take on Arizona. UNLV split the six home games, topping Portland State, Omaha and UT Martin and falling to UC Santa Barbara, Arizona State and Illinois.
The Game: UNLV (3-4/0-0) at Southern Utah (1-5/0-0) 5:05 p.m. (MST) Saturday in the Centrum (5,300).
Practice Schedule: The Thunderbirds work out daily, beginning at 3:00 p.m. Practices are held in the Centrum Arena. All practices are open to the public.
Media Availability: Players and coaches are made available for interviews on Tuesdays prior to practice at 2:30 p.m., with occasional adjustments because of travel and class schedules.
Radio: All SUU men’s basketball games are broadcast live by Power 91 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 is joined on home and selected road broadcasts by former SUU standout Dean O’Driscoll.
On The Internet: All of Southern Utah’s home games and Big Sky road games will be available on Watch Big Sky, at www.bigskytv.org. Audio of SUU home and road games is available at the Thunderbirds’ website at www.suutbirds.com or at www.power91radio.com.
Live Stats: Live stats of all of SUU’s home games and selected road contests will be available at www.suutbirds.com.
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.
Saturday’s game will be the 21st between the Thunderbirds and Rebels as four-year institutions, and the seventh in Cedar City. UNLV is 20-0 against the Thunderbirds, and 7-0 in Cedar City. The last time the two teams met the then No. 22 Rebels took a 72-50 win in Las Vegas. The last time the two teams met in Cedar City UNLV came out on top 77-59.
The Thunderbirds and Rebels also competed against each other prior to 1963, when the schools competed at the junior college level. During that era SUU went 7-0 against the Rebels.
SUU Head Coach Nick Robinson (Stanford, 2005), a 2013 finalist for the Joe B. Hall Award which honors the top first-year coach in the nation, has a record of 12-25 in his second season at SUU and his second season overall as a head coach. In his first year at SUU Coach Robinson led the Thunderbirds to a sixth-place finish in the Big Sky Conference, earning a BSC tournament berth in the school’s first season in the league. SUU posted an 11-20 overall record, including an 8-12 mark in Big Sky games last year, when two Thunderbirds, seniors Jackson Stevenett and Damon Heuir, earned all-conference honors. 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 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. Coach Robinson is 0-0 vs. the Rebels.
Robinson is assisted by Todd Okeson (Nevada, 2005), Drew Allen (Southern Utah, 2010) and Chad Bell (Nevada, 2006). Yahosh Bonner (Northern Colorado, 2010) serves as Director of Basketball Operations. Okeson and Allen were with the Thunderbirds last season while Bell and Bonner are in their first seasons with the program.
Rebel Coach Dave Rice (UNLV, 1991) is 54-23 in third season at the helm of the Rebel program and his third season as a head coach overall. A member of the Rebels’ 1990 NCAA championship team, Rose was an assistant coach at UNLV for 11 years (1992-93, 1994-2004) before returning to take the reins of the program in 2011. Coach Rose is 0-0 vs. the Thunderbirds.
Affiliations: Southern Utah is in its second season as a member of the Big Sky Conference. UNLV is a member of the Mountain West Conference.
Pre-Conference Schedule: The Thunderbirds will have played nine official games before they open Big Sky play on Jan. 2 at North Dakota, but the non-conference schedule has been heavy with road contests as the team scheduled just three official games in the Centrum before the conference opener. After the Thunderbirds host UNLV they will close out 2013 and the non-conference slate with a two-game trip to southern California, where it will face San Diego State on Dec. 18 and San Diego on Dec. 21.
SUU So Far: The Thunderbirds are averaging 60.3 points per game on 36.2 percent shooting (.309 threes) while knocking down 74.2 percent of their free throws. SUU has allowed opponents an average of 81.2 points on .482 shooting (.390 threes) and has been out-rebounded by an average of 41.5-29.2 through the first six games. Freshman point guard Trey Kennedy leads the team in scoring at 12.3 points per game, with sophomore wing A.J. Hess second at 8.2 ppg and freshman wing Juwan Major contributing 7.8 ppg. Sophomore forward Casey Oliverson leads the team in rebounding with 5.5 per game while senior forward Jaren Jeffery is second on the squad with 3.5 caroms per game. Freshman guard John Marshall leads the ‘Birds with 2.5 assists and 1.2 steals per game, while senior Jayson Cheesman averages a team-best 1.3 blocks per outing.
About the Rebels:
Four UNLV players carry double-figure scoring averages. Bryce DeJean-Jones averages 13.3 points per game and Roscoe Smith adds 12.3, while Kevin Olekaibe scores at an 11.1 ppg clip and Khem Birch checks in at 11.1 ppg. Smith also leads the team with 14.7 rebounds per game while Birch pulls down 10.1 and has blocked 30 shots, an average of 4.3 per contest. DeJean-Jones also leads the team with 3.5 assists per game.
As a team the Rebels average 69.6 points on 43.3 percent shooting (.333 threes) and they have knocked down 58.4 percent of their free throws. UNLV has given up 67.0 ppg on .391 shooting (.295 threes) and the Rebels have out-rebounded their opponents by an average of 42.9-to-41.0 per game.
• Southern Utah has five true freshmen (not including walk-ons) on the roster and all five have played in every game. Freshman point guard Trey Kennedy has started every game while freshman wing Juwan Major got his first career start at Cal and has been in the starting line-up in the two subsequent games. The others had come off the bench in each contest until John Marshall and McKay Anderson started alongside Kennedy and Major at Cal State Northridge.
• Casey Oliverson also got his first start at Northridge and the sophomore forward responded by scoring a season-best 10 points and pulling down eight rebounds, his second-highest total. Oliverson hit five of the seven shots he took and had four offensive rebounds against the Matadors.
• Kennedy hit 6-of-12 shots en route to a season-high 17 points at Northridge.
• Marshall came off the bench to dish out a team season-high eight assists at Portland. In the “stating the incredibly obvious” category, the total was also a career-high for Marshall.
• Freshman guard Trey Kennedy has led or co-led the Thunderbirds in minutes played in all but one game, including at Portland, where he and sophomore forward Casey Oliverson shared the lead with 25 minutes each.
• Jayson Cheesman leads the team with eight blocks. He blocked his first two shots of the season at Utah State, rejected two more at Cal, another vs. UCR and had two at Portland. He rejected one more at Northridge giving him 68 for his career and tying him with Tarvish Felton (1996-98) in fourth place on the SUU career list. He needs 17 to tie Felton’s teammate Kenyatta Clyde (1997-99) in third place with 85. Junior center Cal Hanks blocked a shot in each of the first two games and had two more at Portland, giving him 40 in his career, the 10th-best total at SUU; he is five behind Richard Barton’s (1990-93) 45.
• Oliverson has blocked six shots in the past three games. He blocked his first shot as a Thunderbird vs. UC Riverside and finished with three in that game, had a pair at Portland and one more at Northridge. He is second on the team’s blocks list with six.
• Senior forward Jaren Jeffery and sophomore wing A.J. Hess both had season-high rebounding efforts vs. UC Riverside. Jeffery pulled down eight boards while Hess reeled in seven, one shy of his career-high.
• Kennedy and junior guard Chris Nsenki both had career scoring highs vs. UC Riverside, with Kennedy leading the team with a career-best 15 points and Nsenki tying his career-high with 10. Nsenki also tied his career-best with three rebounds vs. the Highlanders.
• SUU had 16 offensive rebounds at Cal. The team had 16 or more offensive boards just four times last year, 17 twice and 18 twice.
• Including walk-ons, there are two seniors, three juniors, four sophomores and nine freshmen on the 2013-14 Thunderbird squad.
• SUU received the Team Academic Excellence Award from the National Association of Basketball Coaches for posting a cumulative GPA of 3.2 in 2012-13. Four members of last year’s squad were named to the NABC’s Honors Court as well, including current T-Bird Jaren Jeffery as well as Jordan Johnson, Matt Gardner and Wade Collie. To be eligible for the Honors Court players must have posted a cumulative grade point average of 3.20 or higher at the end of the 2012-13 school year, must have attained junior or senior academic status and been a member of the varsity basketball squad, and must have been at their current institution for at least one full academic year.
• SUU lost a pair of second-team all-Big Sky performers from last season’s squad: forward Jackson Stevenett and guard Damon Heuir. Stevenett – who was named SUU’s Male Athlete of the Year in 2013 – was the league’s third-leading scorer, leading free throw shooter and was eighth on the rebounding list while Heuir was fourth in the conference in scoring last season.
• Jayson Cheesman was third in the Big Sky with 1.9 blocked shots per game (60 total) and was 10th in the conference with 6.0 rebounds per game.
• Cal Hanks ranked ninth in the Sky with an average of 1.2 blocks in just 13.5 minutes per game last year.
• As a team the Thunderbirds led the Big Sky in offensive rebounds with 12.1 per game last season. The ‘Birds were also second in the BSC in rebounding margin, defensive rebounds and blocked shots last year. SUU averaged three more rebounds per game than their opponents, pulled down 25.5 defensive boards and blocked an average of five shots per game.
• Seven teams qualify for the Big Sky tournament, which will be hosted by the regular-season champion, March 13-15.
• SUU is in its 51st season as a four-year institution, its 26th 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.