Southern Utah's men's basketball team heads back out on the road for its longest road trip of the season, at least in terms of days away from home, this week as it travels to Montana for a Thursday game vs. the Big Sky-leading Grizzlies and a Monday match-up with Montana State. The two Montana schools will face each other in Missoula, Mont., on Saturday.
SUU (5-10/3-3 Big Sky) will be looking to snap a three-game skid after falling at home last week to Weber State (81-74) and Idaho State (54-53). Saturday's game against ISU was the Thunderbirds' fourth in eight days, as they traveled to Northern Arizona for a Jan. 5 game (a 90-77 win), then on to Sacramento State on Jan.7 (a 64-59 loss), before returning home for the games against WSU on Thursday and ISU on Saturday.
Montana (10-4/6-0 Big Sky) - the defending Big Sky champions and pre-season pick to repeat - is riding a six-game winning streak after sweeping a road trip to North Dakota and Northern Colorado last week. The last time the Griz lost was on Dec. 15, when South Dakota State took a 68-67 double-overtime win in Missoula.
The Game: Southern Utah (5-10/3-3), at Montana (10-4/6-0), Thursday at 7:05 p.m. in Dahlberg Arena (7,321), Missoula, Mont.
The Series: The two teams have split their 10 previous meetings 5-5, but they have not faced each other since the 2004-05 season, when the Grizzlies took a 69-57 home win. The Thunderbirds' last win in the series came during the 2000-01 season when they edged the Griz, 89-87, in Dahlberg Arena. SUU is 3-4 vs. Montana in Missoula.
TV: There will be no live television for Thursday's game.
Radio: All of Southern Utah men's basketball games are broadcast live by 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 - who also serves as the chair of SUU's Department of Communication - is joined on home and selected road broadcasts by former SUU standout and current SUU VP for University Relations Dean O'Driscoll.
On The Internet: Video web-streaming coverage of all of Southern Utah's home games and Big Sky road games is available on Big Sky TV, at www.bigskytv.org. Audio of all SUU games is available by logging on to the Thunderbird website at www.suutbirds.com or at www.power91radio.com.
Live Stats: Live stats of Southern Utah's home games are available on the SUU website at www.suutbirds.com. Real-time live stats of SUU's home games are available to working media, contact the athletic media relations office for access information.
Video Highlights: Video highlights of the Thunderbirds' home games is 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.
Practice Schedule: The practice schedule calls for the Thunderbirds to work out daily at 3:15 p.m. in the Centrum Arena.
Media Availability: Players and coaches will be available Tuesdays at 2:30 p.m. unless travel schedules dictate otherwise. On weeks when the team is traveling on Tuesday the interviews will be held on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m.
Next Up: Following this weekend's games the team will return home to begin a four-game homestand. The Thunderbirds host Portland State and Eastern Washington, Jan. 24 and 26, and the following weekend host Sacramento State (Jan. 31) and Northern Arizona (Feb. 2). The Eastern Washington contest is Southern Utah's Hall of Fame game. SUU's next road game will be Feb. 7 at Idaho State.
Thunderbird Club Luncheons: The Thunderbird Club's weekly no-host luncheon is held Mondays at noon at the Cedar City Crystal Inn. The public is invited to attend the luncheons where Southern Utah's in-season coaches talk about their upcoming contests and review the past week's action.
Heuir Named BSC Player of the Week: SUU's Damon Heuir was named Big Sky Co-Player of the Week, along with Weber State's Scott Bamforth, for his performance the week of Jan. 5. Heuir scored a Big Sky season-high 30 points to lead SUU to its first road win of the season, a 90-77 victory at Northern Arizona. Heuir started a 22-2 first-half run with a 3-pointer and he buried two more threes during the stretch that lifted SUU from a 9-7 deficit to a 29-11 lead. He went on to score 20 of his points in the second half, including a 3-pointer for the first basket of the period to lift SUU to a 45-30 lead and 5-of-6 free throws in the final 1:04 to keep the Lumberjacks at bay. He hit 6-of-11 shots, 4-of-6 3-pointers and 14-of-16 free throws in the game. The 14 made free throws are also the most in the Big Sky this season. In addition to his scoring, he pulled down four rebounds, dished out two assists, picked off two steals and blocked a shot.
Head Coach Nick Robinson (Stanford, 2005) is 5-10 in his first season at SUU and his first season as a head coach. 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 seasons 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. This is the first time Robinson has coached against Montana.
Wayne Tinkle (Montana, 2005) is in his seventh season as a head coach, all at Montana. He will take a record of 126-75 into Thursday's game, including 72 Big Sky wins, the second-most conference wins by a Big Sky coach, one behind former Grizzly coach Mike Montgomery, who coached SUU's Nick Robinson at Stanford. This will be Coach Tinkle's first game as a head coach vs. SUU.
Affiliations: Southern Utah is in its first season as a member of the Big Sky Conference. All of SUU's sports except gymnastics and men's golf compete in the Big Sky. Gymnastics is an affiliate member of the WAC while men's golf competes in the American Sky Conference. Montana is a charter member of the Big Sky.
The Schedule: The Thunderbirds have played nine non-conference games, three at home, four true road contests, and two neutral court match-ups. They have played four conference games at home and two on the road. SUU opened at #21 Gonzaga, then played three games in three days at the World Vision Classic, meeting Green Bay, Cal State Fullerton and host Nevada before opening its home schedule against Carroll College. SUU also played non-conference games at TCU, at Denver, and at home against San Diego Christian and San Diego. SUU has just one non-conference game remaining, a BracketBuster match-up at home on Feb. 23.
Last Time Out: Damon Heuir scored 17 points and Jackson Stevenett added 12 but Idaho State held Southern Utah scoreless in the final 2:25 to claim a 54-53 win. Southern Utah led 28-26 at halftime but former SUU Coach Bill Evans' Bengals held the Thunderbirds to .273 shooting in the second half (6-of-22), and the Thunderbirds chances went away when Heuir's 3-pointer from the corner bounced off the rim as time expired. The Thunderbirds finished the game with a 32.1 shooting percentage (18-of-56), their lowest of the season. Stevenett led the team in rebounds and blocks, pulling down eight boards and rejecting three shots, but he was just 4-of-12 from the floor while Heuir was just 4-of-18, 4-of-11 from 3-point range. Idaho State also enjoyed a 27-13 edge at the free throw line, but converted just 16 opportunities (.593) while SUU hit 10 of it's 13 (.769). SUU also out-rebounded the Bengals, 43-to-34, after losing the battle of the boards in their previous two games, and had the edge in assists, 13-9 but turned it over 16 times.
T-Birds In The National Ranks:
SUU has one player ranked among the NCAA's top-50 and one just outside that range this week, and the team ranks in the top-50 in one category and in the top-100 in two. Jayson Cheesman is 36th in blocks per game with an average of 2.33, while Jackson Stevenett is 51st in free throw percentage at .862. As a team the Thunderbirds are 22nd in the country with 5.4 blocks per game, 65th in rebounding margin (plus-4.9) and 78th in free throw percentage (.720).
T-Birds In The Big Sky:
Cheesman leads the Big Sky in blocks per game with 2.3 and Stevenett is second in the league in scoring at 16.0 points per game while Damon Heuir is fourth in scoring at 14.5 ppg. Stevenett is also third in free throw percentage at .862 and is sixth in rebounding with 6.3 per game, while Cheesman ranks ninth in rebounding with 5.9 rpg. Wade Collie is fifth in 3-point percentage at .439 and Cal Hanks is ninth in blocks per game with 1.2. The team leads the conference in blocks with 5.4 per game, is second in the BSC in rebounding margin (+4.9), is second in defensive rebounds (26.4 drpg) and third in offensive rebounds (12.1 orpg).
When only conference games are considered Stevenett leads the Big Sky with 19.0 points per game and Heuir is seventh at 15.7. Heuir is third in 3-pointers per game (2.3) and sixth in free throw percentage (.867) while Stevenett and Cheesman are sixth and seventh in rebounding with 7.3 and 7.0 caroms per game, respectively. Cheesman is third in blocks per game (2.0), Collie is sixth in 3-point percentage (.476) and Stevenett is 10th in free throw percentage (.824). The team leads the BSC in 3-point defense (.286) and offensive rebounds (13.7 per game), is second in field goal percentage defense (.372), blocked shots per game (6.0) and defensive rebounds (26.8) and third in rebounding margin (plus-3.2) and free throw percentage (.770).
Moving Up The Ranks:
Jackson Stevenett is currently 12th on SUU's career scoring list, with 965 points in his three-plus seasons at SUU. He needs 17 points to tie Fred House (1999-2001) in 11th place and 112 to tie Russell Otis (1984-86) in 10th. He also has 406 career rebounds, which ranks 19th all-time at SUU. He needs five boards to tie Dave Pinamonti (1967-69) in 18th place and needs 57 to move into the top-10, where Davor Marcelic is 10th with 463.
Cleaning The Glass:
- The Thunderbirds were out-rebounded in their first three games of the season then won the battle of the boards in nine straight contests before Sacramento State had a 41-38 edge on the boards and Weber State held a 46-41 advantage. SUU got back on the glass vs. Idaho State, however, out-rebounding the Bengals 43-34.
- SUU has reeled in 40 or more caroms eight times this season. Last year's team had a total of four 40-rebound games.
- SUU pulled down a season-high 51 rebounds vs. San Diego Christian. The team's high mark vs. a Division I foe was 45, against Northern Colorado.
- SUU averages a Big Sky-leading 5.3 blocks per game. The Thunderbirds have rejected 81 shots this season, including 12 against North Dakota, SUU's highest total since the team combined for 13 rejections against Panhandle State on Dec. 14, 2010 and the highest total in the Big Sky so far this season. The Thunderbirds were in double-digits against San Diego as well, when they blocked 10 shots.
- Jayson Cheesman didn't take much time to break into the SUU record books. In his first game as a Thunderbird the junior transfer from Salt Lake Community College blocked five shots, which tied the sixth-highest single-game blocks total in SUU history. With 35 total blocks this season Cheesman is all alone in seventh place on the SUU single-season list. He had one block vs. Idaho State to move ahead of Kerry Sherwood (1991-92) and Bryan Olson (183-84). He is tied with Matt Hodgson (2010-11) in sixth place on the list and needs five to tie Kenyatta Clyde's 39 in 1997-98 for fifth place. Hodgson holds the school record with 64 blocks in 2009-10.
- Cal Hanks tied Cheesman in sixth place on that single-game list when he came off the bench to block five shots against North Dakota. Hanks had three last week to give him 18 blocks on the season.
- SUU blocked six shots vs. Weber State, giving the team five or more blocks in a game nine times this season.
- The Thunderbirds had just four players foul out of the nine non-conference games (including two at TCU) but have had nine disqualifications in the six Big Sky contests so far, including two at both Northern Arizona and Sac State and three against Weber State.
- SUU was the first team to win its first three Big Sky Conference games in its first season of play since Boise State started out 4-0 back in 1970-71.
- Julian Scott, who hadn't played since suffering an injury against Carroll College back on Nov. 21, came off the bench to score 13 points and pull down four rebounds at NAU. Although he struggled at Sacramento State he scored eight points with five rebounds and a block vs. Weber State.
- SUU shot .568 from the floor and .538 from 3-point range at NAU - both season-high percentages - and knocked down 78.6 percent of its free throws, including 10-of-12 in the final 1:08 to clinch the win.
- The T-Birds attempted a season-high 42 free throws and hit a season-high 33 of them at NAU. En route to his BSC-season-high 30 points Damon Heuir hit a team-high 4-of-6 3-pointers and 14-of-16 free throws. The 14 made free throws are also the most in a single game in the Big Sky this season.
- Stevenett has scored a career-high 29 points twice this season, at Gonzaga and again vs. Weber State. Stevenett's 29 points at Gonzaga was tied as the highest single-game point total in the Big Sky this season until Damon Heuir scored 30 at NAU. Stevenett's 11 field goals made against the Zags is the highest total in the conference so far this season, while his 11-of-15 shooting night (.733) ranks second-best in the Sky, behind Northern Colorado's Connor Osborne, who hit 8-of-9 shots against University of the Southwest.
- Heuir's 14 made free throws at NAU are the most in a game in the Big Sky this season while his 16 attempts are tied for the most.
- Stevenett and Heuir are the only two players to lead the Thunderbirds in scoring this season. Stevenett has paced the team eight times while Heuir has been at the top of the scoring list in seven games.
- Jordan Johnson hit the first 3-pointer of the season and the second of his career at NAU. He buried another against Idaho State.
- Northern Arizona hit just 3-of-17 3-pointers against the Thunderbirds, 17.6 percent. It was the lowest percentage and tied for the second-fewest long-range baskets by the Lumberjacks this season.
- SUU posted its first win of the season after trailing at the half, trailing in the last minute and when scoring fewer than 60 points when it came back for the 51-50 win over Northern Colorado. In that game the Thunderbirds also notched their first win when the opponent turned the ball over more (UNC had 18 turnovers to SUU's 14), when the opponent's bench outscored the 'Birds (14-8), in a game decided by seven or fewer points and when the opponent shot a better percentage from the floor (.380-to-.339).
- SUU had a season-high six players score in double figures against San Diego Christian. Stevenett led the way with 15, while Damon Heuir and Wade Collie each finished with 13. Jayson Cheesman finished with 12 points and both Jaren Jeffery and Jordan Johnson had 10. For Cheesman and Johnson the totals were career-highs while Collie's 13 were a season-high. Johnson was a perfect 5-for-5 from the floor while Collie was 5-of-6 and Hanks, who finished with a then-career-high seven points, was 3-for-3 from the field as SUU finished with a season-best 55.9 field goal percentage.
- Cheesman pulled down 13 rebounds at TCU, the third-highest total in the Big Sky this season.
- SUU combined for a season-high 18 assists vs. SDCC. Freshman A.J. Hess came off the bench to lead the squad with a career-high five dimes vs. the Hawks, while Collie had four and all but two Thunderbirds who saw action dished out at least one.
- SUU has nine lettermen, one squad member and one redshirt returning from last season's team that finished 8-10 (14-17 overall) and in sixth place in the Summit League.
- Five seniors, three juniors, three sophomores and four freshmen make up the 2012-13 Thunderbird squad.
- Jackson Stevenett was a second-team all-Summit League honoree and he also earned a spot on the five-player Summit League all-tournament team last season.
- SUU advanced to the Summit League tournament as the number six seed last year, then upset third-seeded Oakland (84-82) in the tournament's first round before falling to eventual tourney champion South Dakota State (63-47).
- Nick Robinson is the eighth head men's basketball coach in SUU's 50-year history as a four-year institution.
- Nevada's World Vision Classic was the fourth in-season tournament for the Thunderbirds in as many years. Last year SUU competed at San Diego State's Basketball Travelers Classic, in 2010 SUU traveled to the Great Alaska Shootout and in 2009 the team was in Hawai'i for the Rainbow Classic.
- Southern Utah plays 14 home games this season, including 10 Big Sky Conference contests and one in the BracketBusters tournament. The 10 conference match-ups are the most ever in a season for SUU, a far cry from the four the team had in 1993-94 and 1994-95 when it was a member of the five-team American West Conference and there were just four home conference dates. The last several years SUU has played nine Summit League games per season in the Centrum.
- SUU and the University of North Dakota are in their first seasons in the Big Sky, making it an 11-team conference. The Thunderbirds had been members of the Summit League (nee. Mid-Continent Conference) for the past 15 seasons before joining the BSC. As members of the 10-team Summit League the Thunderbird men's basketball team qualified for the conference's eight-team post-season tournament 14 of 15 seasons, missing only in 2009-10 when the T-Birds finished ninth.
- Seven teams qualify for the Big Sky tournament, which will be hosted by the regular-season champion, March 14-16.
- SUU is in its 50th season as a four-year institution, its 25th 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.
Scouting Montana: The Grizzlies are 5-1 at home this season, with the only setback coming at the hands of South Dakota State, in double-overtime. Montana is 2-0 at home in Big Sky games and has already picked up four conference road wins. The Griz beat Eastern Washington (81-66) and Portland state (62-55) at home and came out on top of road decisions at Northern Arizona (62-56), Sacramento State (61-60), North Dakota (77-62) and Northern Colorado (85-77). Montana averages 70.1 points per game on .463 shooting (.414 threess) while allowing opponents an average of 65.6 ppg on .418 shooting (.344 threes). The Griz have hit 77.5 percent of their free throws and have been out-rebounded by an average margin of 34.9-to-31.1 per game. Senior forward Mathias Ward (6-7, 228) leads the team with an average of 15.3 points per game while Kareem Jamar (G/F, 6-5, 210, Jr) averages 14.2 points and a team-high 6.0 rebounds per game. Two-time All-Big Sky guard Will Cherry, who missed the first seven games of the season after off-season foot surgery, averages 11.9 points and 5.3 assists per game, including a Big Sky-leading average of 6.2 per game in conference contests.