Quickly: Southern Utah opens the Summit League tournament Saturday at 6:00 p.m. (Central) against the same team it ended the season against last week, Oakland. SUU enters the tournament as the eighth seed while Oakland is the top-seeded team for the second straight season.
The Thunderbirds (11-18/7-11 Summit League) had won three straight games, their longest winning streak of the year, prior to suffering a 82-68 defeat at the hands of Oakland last Saturday. SUU, which has won five of its last eight games, had posted a convincing 84-66 home win over IPFW on Thursday night, a win that came on the heels of its first conference road sweep since the 2003-04 season. Those two road wins were an 80-68 upset over IUPUI and a 68-63 win at Western Illinois. Prior to the win at IUPUI the T-Birds went 2-2 on a four-game homestand, beating Cal State Bakersfield (63-59) and Centenary (70-49) and losing close battles against UMKC (71-68) and Oral Roberts (71-69).
Oakland (22-9/17-1) has won five straight after the win at SUU on Saturday. The Golden Grizzlies – who have won 15 of their last 16 games – wrapped up the Summit League regular-season championship and the top seed in the league tournament with a win at North Dakota State on Feb. 17. They were the first team in the country to clinch a regular-season title. Oakland is the defending conference regular-season and tournament champion.
This marks the third time in its Summit League history that SUU will meet the same team it ended the regular season against in the first round of the conference tournament, and the second against Oakland. SUU is 1-2 in such games. The first occurrence was in 1997-98 when the Thunderbirds lost at Oral Roberts, 86-69, then dropped a 94-84 double overtime decision to the Golden Eagles in the tournament to finish 0-3 vs. ORU that season. The second time was against Oakland in 2002-03 when SUU lost at Oakland, 92-77, but avenged that setback with a 66-55 tournament win to finish the season 2-1 vs. the Golden Grizzlies. The last time was in 2007-08 when the Thunderbirds beat IPFW, 99-89, at home in the season finale only to lose to the Mastodons, 66-62, in the tournament to finish 2-1 vs. IPFW that season.
The Game: Southern Utah (11-18/7-11) vs Oakland (22-9/17-1) Saturday at 6:00 p.m. (Central) in the first round of The Summit League tournament, at the Sioux Falls Arena, Sioux Falls, S.D.
Radio: All Southern Utah men’s basketball games are broadcast live by KSUU (91.1 FM) and KSUB AM (590) as well as on the internet at www.suu.edu/ksuu. Art Challis is in his 36th season as the Thunderbirds’ basketball play-by-play voice. He is joined on home broadcasts by former SUU great Dean O’Driscoll.
TV: The game will be televised live in Utah by KMYU. It is available over the air on channel 12.1 in southern Utah and 2.2 in Northern Utah, on DishNetwork channel 12, and on the following cable outlets: Comcast channel 22, Bresnan Channel 18 and Skyview Channel 12.
The Series: The Grizzlies took a 14-13 advantage in the series with the win last Saturday and have won five straight against the ‘Birds. In addition to the win in Cedar City Oakland notched an 81-65 home win earlier this season. They also swept the T-Birds last year, taking a 99-53 home win and a 85-72 win in Cedar City. The five-game winning stretch against SUU began with a 78-62 decision in Rochester, Mich., at the end of the 2008-09 regular season. Prior to the 2009 loss the Thunderbirds had won four straight against the Grizzlies. The Thunderbirds are 1-0 in neutral site games against Oakland, the 66-55 win in Kansas City in 2003.
Southern Utah In The Summit League/Mid-Con Tournament:
Through their tournament history the Thunderbirds are 2-0 vs. Western Illinois, 1-0 vs. Oakland, 1-1 vs. UMKC, 1-2 vs. both Valparaiso and Oral Roberts, 1-3 vs. IUPUI, and 0-1 vs. IPFW, North Dakota State and former league member Youngstown State.
In their championship run in 2001 the Thunderbirds topped Western Illinois (66-53), Oral Roberts (73-62) and Valparaiso (62-59 for the championship) in their three-game run.
In 2000 SUU beat Western (78-68) and UMKC (72-54) before falling to Valparaiso (71-62) in the championship game.
In 1998, the first year for both teams in the Mid-Con, Oral Roberts took a 94-84 double-overtime victory in the first round, in 1999 Youngstown State prevailed 78-56 in the first round and SUU dropped a 70-57 decision to UMKC in the first round following the 2001-02 season. In 2004 the Thunderbirds lost a 74-60 decision to IUPUI and in 2005 top-seeded Oral Roberts beat the Thunderbirds, 82-59. In 2006 the Thunderbirds lost a 77-66 decision to Valpo in the quarterfinal round and in 2007 IUPUI took a 71-59 win in the quarterfinals. IPFW came out on top of a 66-62 decision against the Thunderbirds in 2008.
For the most part the tourney has been an all-or-nothing proposition for the ‘Birds, as they have either lost in the first round or made it all the way to the championship game in all but two of their 11 previous go-arounds. Only in 2003 and 2009 did the ‘Birds buck that trend. In ‘03 they won their first round game against Oakland (66-55) before falling in the semifinals to eventual champ IUPUI (72-67), and in ‘09 they pulled out a 53-48 win over IUPUI before falling again the eventual champion, North Dakota State (79-67) in the semis.
Prior to moving to Sioux Falls, the tournament had been held in four venues since the Thunderbirds joined the league. SUU was 0-2 at The Mark in Moline, Ill., 5-2 at Memorial Coliseum in Ft. Wayne, Ind., 1-2 in tournament games at Kansas City’s Kemper Arena and was 0-3 at John Hammons Arena in Tulsa, Okla.
Practice Schedule: The Thunderbirds will practice Tuesday from 3:00-to-5:00 p.m. in the Centrum Arena prior to departing for Sioux Falls on Wednesday. At Sioux Falls, the team has a scheduled practice from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. on Friday at the Family Wellness Center with its 27-minute shoot-around scheduled for 9:00 a.m. Saturday in Sioux Falls Arena. Friday’s practice is open to the public while the shoot-around is a closed session. Contact SUU Sports Information Director Neil Gardner at (435) 559-0275 for more information.
Looking Ahead: The winner of Saturday’s game will face the winner of No.4 IPFW vs. No. 5 South Dakota State, Monday night at 6:00 p.m. (CST).
Reid takes a career Division I mark of 192-155, including a 40-79 record at SUU, into the tournament. His record includes six years as head coach at Brigham Young.
Coach Reid’s career has spanned virtually every level of the coaching strata, including the high school, junior college, and NCAA Division I levels as well as the NBA and international ranks. He is probably best known for his success at Brigham Young University, where he led the Cougars to five NCAA tournament berths and three Western Athletic Conference championships. He has also coached the Phoenix Suns of the NBA and the Hangzhou Horses of the Chinese Basketball Association. Reid coached Snow College to a conference title and a No. 18 national ranking in his final season on the bench there.
Reid is assisted by Ron Carling (BYU ‘70), a 39-year coaching veteran who is also in his fourth season with the program; Johnny Brown (New Mexico ‘86), a 17-year veteran of the coaching ranks who is in his fourth year in Cedar City; and assistant Kenya Crandell (Nebraska-Kearney ‘96) who is in his 14th season as a collegiate coach and his third year at SUU.
About the Golden Grizzlies:
The Grizzlies are the highest-scoring team in The Summit League, at 84.98 ppg. They have hit 48.8 percent of their shots, also the best in the league, and 37.4 percent of their 3-point attempts. OU has allowed opponents an average of 76.5 ppg on .440 shooting (.362 threes), has out-rebounded its opponents by an average of 39.5-to-33.9 caroms per game and has connected on 72.2 percent of its free throws.
• SUU is 1-2 in neutral site games this season, with a win against Houston Baptist and losses to Drake and Ball State at the Great Alaska Shootout.
• Ramell Taylor arguably his best game since the Thunderbirds played Utah State against Oakland. The junior forward from Detroit, Mich., led the T-Birds with 15 points and eight rebounds and blocked a shot as well. In 25 minutes on the floor he hit 7-of-10 shots and had four offensive rebounds. The rebounds were a career-high while the points were his most since he scored 22 against USU back on Nov. 20.
• Ryan Brimley, SUU’s only senior this year, had a good effort in his final home game. He hit 4-of-8 shots – including 3-of-6 from 3-point range – to finish with 13 points, dished out two assists and had a pair of steals in 28 minutes on the floor.
• The Thunderbirds had a string of three straight games shooting 60 percent or better come to an end vs. Oakland, when they hit 28-of-65 shots, 43.1 percent. The 65 shots were the most the team has taken in a game this year. Prior to the Oakland game the ‘Birds shot .625 at WIU and .620 at IUPUI, their two best shooting games of the season, then finished at an even .600 against IPFW. The Thunderbirds hit 20-of-32 shots vs. the Leathernecks, 31-of-50 vs. the Jaguars and 30-of-50 vs. the ‘Dons. In all three games the T-Birds were scorching the net in the second half, hitting 21-of-28 at IUPUI (75 percent), 11-of-15 at WIU (.733) and 14-of-22 vs. IPFW (.636).
• The Thunderbirds did a good job defensively on Oakland, holding the Grizzlies to 24-of-62 shooting (.387), but OU was able to convert 28-of-38 free throw attempts. Oakland’s 38.7 percent success rate was its lowest in a Summit League game this season and its lowest since Ohio State held the Grizzlies to 37.7 (23-61) percent back on Dec. 23.
• SUU had four starters in double figures vs. IPFW as Kyle Davis scored 18 points, Ray Jones, Jr., scored 16, Jackson Stevenett had 15, and Matt Massey finished with 10. The fifth starter, Ryan Brimley, finished with nine points.
• Davis had a good all-around game vs. the Mastodons, leading the team in scoring (18 points on 8-of-11 shooting), rebounds (eight), assists (five), co-leading the team with one steal and blocking three shots. His five assists were a personal-best.
• SUU blocked seven shots vs. IPFW. Along with Davis’ three rejections, Stevenett blocked a team-high and personal-best four shots vs. IPFW.
• Until Oakland pulled down 49 rebounds to SUU’s 37 the T-Birds had ruled the glass in four straight games. Led by Davis’ eight boards the T-Birds out-rebounded IPFW 35-to-28. Massey pulled down six and Stevenett had five boards. At WIU, SUU held a 25-18 edge, with Jones pulling down a team-high five while Stevenett and Nielson each had four rebounds. SUU pulled down 30 rebounds (including 11 on the offensive end) to IUPUI’s 22, with Matt Hodgson, Ramell Taylor and Jordan Weirick leading the way with five each. On Feb. 12, SUU out-rebounded Oral Roberts 41-24. Davis led the way with nine, Ryan Brimley pulled down a career-high seven, and Massey and Jones each had six.
• Davis is third in the League in field goal percentage (conference games) at .649 and in blocks with 1.3 per game, is sixth in defensive rebounds (4.7 rpg) and is 12th in overall rebounding (6.0 rpg). Hodgson is sixth in blocks with 1.1, Brimley is fifth in free throw percentage at .849. Jones is fourth in assists (3.9 apg) and 6th in assists/ turnover ratio (1.4). Massey is ninth in field goal percentage (.556), and Nielson is 10th in steals (1.2 per game).