Southern Utah’s men’s basketball team wraps up a two-game road trip Monday night when the Thunderbirds take on Sacramento State in a Big Sky match-up in Sacramento, Calif.
SUU (1-19/0-11 Big Sky), which is looking for its first Big Sky win of the season, is coming off a 64-57 defeat at the hands of Northern Arizona, its sixth straight loss by eight or fewer points. The Thunderbirds lost a 77-49 decision to Sacramento State in Cedar City the last time the two played but the Thunderbirds have lost just two games by more than eight points since that defeat.
Sacramento State (9-11/5-6 Big Sky) has gone 4-3 since the meeting with SUU on Jan. 11. The Hornets returned home following the 77-49 win over the Thunderbirds where they split two games, falling to Portland State, 68-64 in overtime, before handling Eastern Washington, 75-64. They headed back out on the road the following week, where they lost at North Dakota (82-71) and Northern Colorado (72-62) but have won three straight, all at home, since. The Hornets held off Idaho state, 84-78, outlasted Weber State in overtime, 78-75, then picked up an 87-70 win over Northern Arizona last Thursday.
The Game: Southern Utah (1-19/0-11) at Sacramento State (9-11/5-6), Monday at 7:05 p.m. (PST) in The Nest (1,200), Sacramento, Calif.
Practice Schedule: While at home the Thunderbirds work out daily, beginning at 3:00 p.m. with occasional adjustments due to travel and class schedules. 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: Southern Utah holds a 14-8 advantage in the series with Sacramento State, but the Hornets have won two of the last three, a 77-49 victory in Cedar City earlier this season and a 64-59 win in Sacramento last year. SUU, which took a 79-67 win in Cedar City last season, is 4-6 all-time in games played against the Hornets in Sacramento. The Thunderbirds won the first four match-ups played in Sacramento but have come up short in the last six.
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 12-39 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 1-2 vs. the Hornets.
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.
Sacramento State coach Brian Katz (Sacramento State, 1980) has a record of 51-116 in his fifth season at Sac State and his fifth season overall as a head coach. Katz is 2-1 vs. SUU.
Pre-Conference Schedule: The Thunderbirds’ non-conference schedule was one of the toughest in the nation, as SUU’s strength of schedule to this point ranked 46th in Division I and second in the Big Sky after their nine non-conference games. The Thunderbirds’ 2013-14 SOS has been as high as 34th. The non-conference schedule was heavy with road contests as the team scheduled just three official games in the Centrum before the conference opener. The Thunderbirds went 1-2, with a win over Arizona Christian and losses to UC Riverside and UNLV, at home in the pre-season and 0-6 on the road. The road slate included games at No. 23 San Diego State, California, Utah State, San Diego, Portland and Cal State Northridge.
SUU by the Numbers: In Big Sky games the Thunderbirds are averaging 56.5 points per game on 42.6 percent shooting (.322 threes) while knocking down 68.9 percent of their free throws. SUU has allowed conference opponents an average of 70.2 points on .467 shooting (.366 threes) and has been out-rebounded by an average of 33.7-27.0 caroms per game. Freshman point guard Trey Kennedy leads the team in scoring and assists with 10.2 points and 2.6 dimes per game, while sophomore wing A.J. Hess is second in scoring at 10.0 ppg and in assists with 1.8 per game. Sophomore forward Casey Oliverson leads the team in rebounding with 4.9 caroms per Big Sky game while senior forward Jaren Jeffery is second on the squad with 3.8 and Hess averages 3.7. Freshman guard John Marshall leads the team with 10 steals, an average of 0.9 per game, while senior Jayson Cheesman averages a team-best 0.8 blocks per outing.
Scouting Sacramento State:
The Hornets have prospered at home this season, with a 7-2 record in The Nest, including a 4-1 mark in Big Sky games. The only home losses have come at the hands of UC Irvine and Portland State, 68-64 in overtime. The Hornets have won four straight at home, including wins over Eastern Washington (75-64), Idaho State (84-78), Weber State (78-75 in overtime), and last Thursday night they downed Northern Arizona, 87-70.
Two Hornets carry double-figure scoring averages, junior guards Mikh McKinney (6-1, 175) and Dylan Garrity (6-2, 175), at 15.8 and 13.2 ppg, respectively. Forward Zach Mills (6-5, 215, Jr) leads the team with 4.0 rebounds per game with wing Cody Demps (6-3, 200, So) – one of five Hornets averaging between 3.0 and 3.9 boards per game – right behind him with 3.9. Garrity and McKinney are 1-2 on the team in assists, with 3.8 and 3.6 per game.
As a team the Hornets average 67.9 ppg on .450 shooting (.364 threes) while giving up 69.2 ppg on .457 shooting (.347 threes). They have knocked down 72.3 percent of their free throws and have been out-rebounded 32.1-to-31.1 per game.
Young T-Birds: Southern Utah is one of the youngest teams in America, with just 10 combined seasons of collegiate experience heading into the 2013-14 campaign. SUU has five true freshmen (not including walk-ons) on the roster and three of the five have played in every game. Freshman point guard Trey Kennedy has started all but one game while guard John Marshall has started 11 games and wing Juwan Major has started four. Wing McKay Anderson has had one start – alongside Kennedy, Major and Marshall – at Cal State Northridge. Wing Race Parsons hasn’t had a start but he has appeared in all but one game. In addition to the freshmen, forward Casey Oliverson, a sophomore in his first season with the Thunderbirds, has started 11 games.
• John Marshall tied his career-high with a team-best 10 points at Northern Arizona. He also had three steals, tying his personal high and the team’s high this season.
• The Thunderbirds hit 24-of-48 shots at NAU, 50 percent, their second-best effort of the season, behind the .542 at Eastern Washington. Eight of the 10 players who attempted a field goal were at or better than 50 percent, with Jaren Jeffery hitting all three of his shots.
• Northern Arizona hit just 5-of-23 shots in the second half, (.217) but knocked down 19-of-20 free throws in the period.