Southern Utah’s men’s basketball team wraps up the 2013-14 campaign Saturday night when the Thunderbirds host Northern Colorado at 5:05 p.m. in the Centrum Arena.
The Thunderbirds (2-26/1-18 Big Sky) will look to put together back-to-back Big Sky wins for the first time this season after holding off North Dakota for a 77-71 win on Thursday night. And although SUU is out of the hunt for a Big Sky playoff berth, the T-Birds are still in a position to have an effect on the tournament, as UNC is jockeying for position in the BSC race.
Northern Colorado (16-12/10-9 Big Sky) has come upon hard times as of late. The Bears were atop the Big Sky standings in late January after winning seven of their first eight conference games, but they are 3-8 since Jan. 25 and are riding a four-game slide, including a 94-90 setback at North Dakota on Tuesday.
The Game: Northern Colorado (16-12/10-9) at Southern Utah (2-26/1-18), Thursday at 5:05 p.m. in the Centrum Arena (5,300).
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 are 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 are available at www.suutbirds.com.
Video Highlights: Video highlights of the Thunderbirds’ home games are 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: Saturday’s game will be the fourth between the Thunderbirds and Bears as Big Sky opponents and the fifth meeting overall between the two programs with UNC holding a 4-1 edge after grabbing a 91-55 win over the Thunderbirds in early January. The two teams split last year’s home-and-home series, with SUU taking a 51-50 win in Cedar City and the Bears avenging that loss with a 66-58 win in Greeley later in the season. Northern Colorado came out on top of the first test, a 73-51 win in Hawai’i, at the 2009 Rainbow Classic.
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 13-46 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. UNC.
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.
Northern Colorado Coach B.J. Hill (Grand View, 1996) is 59-60 in his fourth season at the helm of the Bear program and his fourth season overall as a head coach at the four-year level. Hill is 2-1 vs. the Thunderbirds.
Pre-Conference Schedule: The Thunderbirds’ non-conference schedule was one of the toughest in the nation, as SUU’s strength of schedule ranked 46th in Division I and second in the Big Sky after their nine non-conference games. The Thunderbirds’ 2013-14 SOS was ranked 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 60.7 points per game on 43.2 percent shooting (.336 threes) while knocking down 67.4 percent of their free throws. SUU has allowed conference opponents an average of 73.2 points on .470 shooting (.371 threes) and has been out-rebounded by an average of 33.9-to-28.5 caroms per game. Sophomore wing A.J. Hess leads the team in scoring at 9.8 points per game, with freshman guard Trey Kennedy second at 9.3 ppg while sophomore forward Casey Oliverson adds 8.0 ppg and senior forward Jaren Jeffery chips in 7.5. Oliverson leads the team in rebounding with 5.4 caroms per Big Sky game while Hess pulls down 4.5 and Jeffery averages 4.0 rpg. Freshman John Marshall leads the squad assists with 2.32 per game while Kennedy dishes out 2.26. Marshall also has a team-high 17 steals. Junior Cal Hanks leads the team with 12 blocks, Jeffery has 11 and senior Jayson Cheesman has nine.
Scouting Northern Colorado:
The Bears are 3-10 overall on the road this season, including a 2-7 mark in Big Sky play. Their three road wins came at Kansas State in the season-opener and at Montana and Northern Arizona in BSC action.
Four Bears carry double-figure scoring averages, with senior forward Derrick Barden (6-5, 225) leading the way at 13.6 points per game. Guard Tevin Svihovec (Jr., 6-2, 190) is second on the squad with 12.4 ppg, while F Tim Huskisson (Jr., 6-5, 210) is third at 11.2 and G Tate Unruh (Sr., 6-4, 190) chips in 10.1. Barden is also the team’s top rebounder with 8.1 boards per game, while Svihovec leads the squad with 2.4 assists per game.
As a team Northern Colorado averages 74.7 points per game on 49.2 percent shooting (.385 threes) while giving up an average of 71 ppg on .468 shooting (.371 threes). UNC has knocked down 68.4 percent of its free throws and has out-rebounded its opponents by an average of 32.7-to-29.8 caroms 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 21 games while guard John Marshall has started 19 and wing Juwan Major has started 10; all three have appeared in every game. Wing Race Parsons, who has appeared in all but one game, got a start against Idaho State while wing McKay Anderson, who has appeared in 22 games, has also had one start – alongside Kennedy, Major and Marshall – at Cal State Northridge. In addition to the freshmen, forward Casey Oliverson, a sophomore in his first season with the Thunderbirds, has played in all 28 games with 18 starts, and sophomore A.J. Hess has played in every game and started 25.
• A.J. Hess pulled down a career-best 10 rebounds vs. UND to lead all rebounders in the game. He had pulled down exactly eight in the three previous games, one shy of his previous career-best of nine.
• SUU held North Dakota to a 35.7 percent (20-56) field goal percentage, an opponent-low this season. UND’s .105 mark from 3-point range (2-19) was also an opponent low.
• The Thunderbirds hit 76.5 percent of their free throws vs. North Dakota (26-of-34), their highest percentage since they knocked down 81 percent at home vs. Montana, a span of 10 games. The 26 makes were the team’s second-most in a game this year, behind the 27 they knocked down at home vs. Portland State.
• SUU’s 35 rebounds vs. North Dakota tied the team’s second-highest total of the year. The team had 37 vs. Arizona Christian in the season-opener.
• The 15 assists the T-Birds had vs. UND also tied their second-highest total of the season. The high was 16 at Sacramento State.
•SUU took a season-low four 3-pointers and tied the season-low with one made vs. UND.
• The Thunderbirds used nine players vs. North Dakota, their fewest in a game this season.