T-Birds Wrap Up Non-Conference Slate At San Diego

December 19, 2013
By SUU Strategic Communication
Cal Hanks goes after a loose ball at Cal on Nov. 18. Hanks co-led SUU with five rebounds at San Diego State
Cal Hanks goes after a loose ball at Cal on Nov. 18. Hanks co-led SUU with five rebounds at San Diego State
Courtesy: Darren Yamashita
Southern Utah’s men’s basketball team wraps up the non-conference portion of its schedule and says goodbye to 2013 Saturday afternoon when the Thunderbirds take on San Diego at Jenny Craig Pavilion.

SUU (1-7/0-0 Big Sky) will be looking to end the year on a high note by snapping a seven-game skid that dates back to a 90-57 loss at Utah State in the second game of the season. SUU opened the 2013 campaign with an 85-78 home win over Arizona Christian but the young Thunderbirds have been unable to break back into the winning column, most recently falling at the hands of No. 23/24 San Diego State, 76-39, on Wednesday.

San Diego (4-4/0-0 West Coast) will also be looking to get back on track as the Toreros are coming off a 72-61 home loss to UC Santa Barbara on Sunday. USD, which won its first five games but is 3-4 over the last seven, is 4-2 at home this season. The Toreros are wrapping up a four-game homestand on Saturday and they will be shooting to end it with a 2-2 record as they have fallen to San Diego State (65-64) and UCSB and handled Pacifica College (84-47) during the stretch.

The Game: Southern Utah (1-7/0-0) at San Diego (4-4/0-0), Saturday at 2:00 p.m. (PST), Jenny Craig Pavilion (5,100).

Practice Schedule: While at home 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.

The Series: The Toreros hold a 10-0 edge in the series between the two teams, including a 67-53 win in Cedar City last season. USD is 5-0 vs. the Thunderbirds in San Diego.

The Coaches

SUU Head Coach Nick Robinson (Stanford ‘05), a 2013 finalist for the Joe B. Hall Award which honors the top first-year coach in the nation, has a record of 12-27 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 0-1 vs. the Toreros.

Robinson is assisted by Todd Okeson (Nevada ‘05), Chad Bell (Nevada ‘06), and Drew Allen (Southern Utah ‘10). Yahosh Bonner (Northern Colorado ‘10) 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.

Torero Coach Bill Grier (Oregon ‘90) is 92-115 in his seventh season at San Diego and his seventh season as a head coach. Coach Grier is 1-0 vs. the Thunderbirds.

Affiliations: Southern Utah is in its second season as a member of the Big Sky Conference. San Diego is a member of the West Coast Conference.

Captains: This year’s captains are seniors Jayson Cheesman and Jaren Jeffery and junior Chris Nsenki.

Pre-Conference Schedule: The Thunderbirds wrap up their non-conference schedule with this game and will have played nine official games when they open Big Sky play Jan. 2 at North Dakota. 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.

SUU So Far: The Thunderbirds are averaging 56.5 points per game on 34.8 percent shooting (.292 threes) while knocking down 72.6 percent of their free throws. SUU has allowed opponents an average of 79.5 points on .481 shooting (.385 threes) and has been out-rebounded by an average of 41.8-29.6 through the non-conference season. Freshman point guard Trey Kennedy leads the team in scoring at 11.8 points per game, with sophomore wing A.J. Hess second at 7.8 ppg and freshman wing Juwan Major contributing 7.1 ppg. Sophomore forward Casey Oliverson leads the team in rebounding with 4.9 per game while senior forward Jaren Jeffery is second on the squad with 3.5 caroms per game and senior center Jayson Cheesman pulls down 3.1. Kennedy and freshman guard John Marshall share the team’s assists lead with 2.4 per game and Marshall leads the squad with 1.13 steals per game. Cheesman averages a team-best 1.3 blocks per outing.

About the Toreros:

San Diego won its first five games but is 3-5 since seeing its season-opening streak come to an end at Illinois-Chicago on Nov. 25. The Toreros are 4-2 at home with the two losses coming at the hands of No. 24 San Diego State (65-64) and UC Santa Barbara (72-61) their last time out, on Dec. 15. USD’s other loss came at New Mexico (73-66) and the Toreros have notched wins over South Dakota State, Grand Canyon, Morgan State, Northern Kentucky, San Diego Christian, North Carolina-Greensboro, and Pacifica.

Junior guard Johnny Dee (6-0, 182) leads four Toreros with double-figure scoring averages at 17.8 ppg. Sophomore wing Duda Sanadze adds another 12.8 ppg while junior guard Christopher Anderson (5-7, 150) scores at an 11.3 ppg average and senior center Dennis Kramer (6-11, 241) chips in 11.0 points and leads the team with 7.2 rebounds per game. Anderson leads the team with 6.3 assists and also pulls down 4.0 rebounds per game while Sanadze averages 4.5 caroms. Five Toreros, including sophomore forward Jito Kok (4.3 rpg, 6-9, 232) and junior forward Thomas Jacobs (4.8 rpg, 6-6, 215) average four or more rebounds per game.

As a team the Toreros have out-scored their opponents by nearly 10 points per game, averaging 71.3 points per game while giving up 61.5. USD has hit 45.1 percent of its shots from the field (.332 threes) while holding opponents to 37.7 percent (.263 threes), they have connected on 69.9 percent of their free throws and they have out-rebounded their opponents by an average of 38.1-to-34.6 caroms per game.

Thunderbird Notes: 

• Southern Utah is one of the youngest teams in America, with just 10 combined seasons of collegiate experience heading into the season. SUU 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 wing Juwan Major has started four 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. Marshall was back in the starting lineup vs. UNLV and at San Diego State.

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. He has started the two subsequent games, scoring six points with two rebounds and an assist before being knocked out of the UNLV game with a cut above his eye after 18 minutes on the court and finishing with three points, four rebounds and an assist in 22 minutes at SDSU.

• Senior forward Jaren Jeffery was back in the starting lineup vs. UNLV and at SDSU after coming off the bench the previous two games. He responded with season-highs of 10 points and two blocks in 21 minutes vs. UNLV and SDSU he scored the team’s first basket and finished with four points, three rebounds and two steals in 21 minutes.

• Kennedy hit 6-of-12 shots en route to a season-high 17 points at Northridge and has led or co-led the team in scoring in six straight games, including a team-high 10 points at San Diego State.

• 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.

• Kennedy has led or co-led the Thunderbirds in minutes played in all but one game. He logged a game-high 30 minutes at SDSU.

• The Thunderbirds combined to block a season-high seven shots at Portland. Jayson Cheesman, Cal Hanks and Oliverson each tallied two rejections while Major had another.

Jayson Cheesman was scoreless for the first time this season and just the second time in his career at San Diego State.

• Cheesman leads the team with 10 blocked shots, with at least one rejection in every game except the season-opener vs. Arizona Christian. He had two at Utah State, Cal, and Portland and one in every other game. He now has 70 blocks in his SUU career, which ranks fourth on the SUU career list. He needs 15 to tie 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.