Southern Utah's men's basketball wraps up a four-game homestand Saturday night when the Thunderbirds host Northern Arizona in a Big Sky Conference match-up in the Centrum Arena. SUU won the first go-around with the Lumberjacks, 90-77, on Jan. 5 in Flagstaff, Ariz.
The Thunderbirds (8-12/6-5 Big Sky) have won three straight during the homestand, including a 79-67 win over Sacramento State on Thursday night. That win moved SUU back into a tie with Montana State in third place in the Big Sky standings. SUU's last loss was at Montana State, 76-68 on Jan. 21. Since the loss SUU has snapped a five-game skid with a 76-63 win over Portland State, posted a 69-55 win over Eastern Washington and picked up the win over Sac State to avenge a 64-59 setback earlier in the season in Sacramento, Calif.
Northern Arizona (7-13/4-6 Big Sky) will be looking to bounce back after dropping an 81-79 home decision against North Dakota on Saturday. That loss snapped a modest two-game winning streak for the Lumberjacks, who had posted a 60-55 win at Idaho State and a 67-65 home win over Northern Colorado in their previous two games.
Saturday's game will feature the four top scorers in the Big Sky this season. SUU's Jackson Stevenett leads the conference with an average of 16.42 points per game while NAU's Gabe Rogers is second at 16.35 ppg, SUU's Damon Heuir is third with 16.3 per game and NAU's DeWayne Russell checks in with 15.7 ppg, good for fourth.
The Game: Northern Arizona (7-13/4-6) at Southern Utah (8-12/6-5), Saturday at 7:05 p.m. (MST) in the Centrum Arena.
The Series: NAU holds a 13-9 edge in the series with the Thunderbirds, but SUU picked up a 90-77 win the last time the teams met, in Flagstaff, Ariz., earlier this season. During the 2002-03 season, the last times the teams met prior to this year, the Lumberjacks took a 73-56 win in Cedar City, then completed a season sweep with an 85-68 win in Flagstaff.
TV: There will be no live television coverage of Saturday's game.
Radio: All of Southern Utah men's basketball games are broadcast live by KSUU (91.1 FM). Art Challis is in his 40th season as the Thunderbirds' basketball play-by-play voice. Dr. Challis - 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. O'Driscoll will handle play-by-play for the NAU game while Dr. Challis attends a wedding. Providing color analysis will be another former SUU standout, and O'Driscoll's college teammate, Steve Hoagland.
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.
Coming Up: The Thunderbirds head back out on the road next week as they begin a season-long four-game road stretch, which equals their second-longest string of games away from the Centrum this season (the team opened at Gonzaga, then played three games at Nevada's World Vision Classic). Next week they take on Idaho State (Feb. 7) and Weber State (Feb. 9), and the following week they pay visits to Portland State (Feb. 14) and Eastern Washington (Feb. 16). The next home contest following Saturday's match-up with NAU will be the BracketBuster game on Feb. 23. That opponent will be announced Monday.
TBA To Be Removed From Schedule On Monday: SUU will find out who its opponent in the BracketBuster will be on Monday. The announcements will be made on ESPNU at 4:30 p.m. (MST). The television games will be announced first, followed by the remaining match-ups.
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 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 the second-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 8-12 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. Robinson is 1-0 vs. NAU.
Northern Arizona is coached by Jack Murphy (Arizona, 2005). Coach Murphy is 7-13 in his first season at NAU and his first season overall as a head coach. Murphy is 0-1 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. Northern Arizona is also a 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 28 points, Jackson Stevenett added 20 and Cal Hanks scored a career-high 11 as Southern Utah overcame a 13-point halftime deficit to win its third straight game and move into a tied for third place in the Big Sky with a 79-67 home win over Sacramento State. It was the biggest halftime deficit the team has overcome as well as just the third time the Thunderbirds have come back to win after trailing at the break this season. After a lackluster first half in which they hit just 9-of-24 field goal attempts the Thunderbirds found themselves down 39-26 at halftime. They rallied in the second half, however, hitting 18-of-30 shots, an even 60 percent, while holding Sacramento State to 4-of-23 shooting in the period. The Thunderbirds opened the second half with a 13-2 run to pull within 41-39 on a Cal Hanks 3-point play then took the lead for good, 52-50, after a Stevenett 3-pointer. Heuir hit just 6-of-17 shots but buried 3-of-7 3-pointers and 13-of-14 free throws, 9-of-10 of them in the second half. He also pulled down seven rebounds to co-lead the team, along with Cheesman, Collie and Hanks, and had a game-high seven assists. Hanks wound up with career-highs in both points and rebounds, and co-led the team, along with Stevenett, with two blocks. SUU out-rebounded the Hornets 41-26, marking the 10th time the team has tallied 40 or more caroms in a game this season.
T-Birds In The National Ranks: The Thunderbirds have two players ranked in the top-100 in the NCAA through Thursday's games, while the team ranks among the top 100 in three categories. Jayson Cheesman ranks 41st in the nation in blocks per game with an average of 2.2, while Jackson Stevenett is 43rd in free throw percentage at .859 (and 105th in points per game at 16.4). As a team the Thunderbirds are 26th in the country with 5.2 blocks per game, 50th in rebounding margin (plus 5.1) and 63rd in free throw percentage (.728).
T-Birds In The Big Sky:
(As of Tuesday, for updated rankings please see the Big Sky game notes) Cheesman is tied for the Big Sky lead in blocks per game with 2.3 when all games are considered and Stevenett is second in the league in scoring at 16.2 points per game while Damon Heuir is fourth in scoring at 15.6 ppg. Stevenett is also third in free throw percentage at .861 and is ninth in rebounding with 5.9 per game, while Cheesman ranks sixth in rebounding with 6.1 rpg. Wade Collie is 10th in 3-point percentage at .426 and Cal Hanks is seventh in blocks per game with 1.2. The team leads the conference in offensive rebounds (11.7 orpg), and is second in blocks with 5.2 per game, in rebounding margin (plus-4.5) and in defensive rebounds (26.2 drpg).
When only conference games are considered Stevenett is second in the Big Sky with 18.6 points per game and Heuir is fourth at 16.9. Heuir is third in 3-pointers per game (2.4) and fifth in free throw percentage (.848) while Stevenett is eighth in free throw percentage at .822. Cheesman is seventh and Stevenett is ninth in rebounding with 6.8 and 6.3 caroms per game, respectively, with Stevenett fifth in offensive rebounds (2.3 orpg) while Cheesman is fifth in defensive rebounds (5.0). Cheesman is also third in blocks per game (2.1) and Cal Hanks is seventh in blocks (1.3). The team leads the league in offensive rebounds (12.5 pg), in 3-point defense (.297) and in field goal percentage defense (.383), is second in defensive rebounds (26.2 per game), and third in scoring margin (plus-2.6), free throw percentage (.766), blocked shots per game (5.4) and rebounding margin (plus-3.2).
Moving Up The Ranks:
Jackson Stevenett has 1,057 points in his three-plus seasons as a Thunderbird. He is currently 11th on SUU's career scoring list and needs 20 to tie Russell Otis (1984-86) in 10th place. He also has 431 career rebounds, which ranks 14th all time at SUU. He passed former SUU standout Jimmy Faulkner with six boards against Sacramento State. He needs five rebounds to tie Dan Beus (2000-02) in 13th place and 32 to move into the top-10, where Davor Marcelic (1988-92) is 10th with 463.
Jayson Cheesman - who went without blocking a shot for just the third time this season on Thursday against Sac State - has 44 rejections this season, which ranks fifth on SUU's single-season list and ninth on the career list. He needs four to tie Kenyatta Clyde in fourth place and 23 to tie Matt Hodgson (2009-10) atop the single-season list. He needs one to move into a tie with Richard Barton (1986-87, 1990-93) in eighth place and two to tie Fred House (1998-2001) in seventh on the career list.
Cleaning The Glass:
- The Thunderbirds have won the battle of the boards 15 times this season. They were out-rebounded in their first three games then won the battle of the boards in nine straight contests before Sacramento State had a 41-38 edge on the boards in the first meeting between the two teams and Weber State held a 46-41 advantage. SUU got back on the glass vs. Idaho State, however, and has out-rebounded every subsequent opponent. They out-boarded the Bengals 43-34, edged Montana 30-28, had a 37-33 advantage over Montana State, slipped past Portland State 33-32, finished with a 44-38 margin against Eastern Washington and came out on top in the rematch with SAC, 41-26.
- SUU has reeled in 40 or more caroms 10 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 5.2 blocks per game, which ranks second in the Big Sky. The Thunderbirds have rejected 104 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.
- 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 five shots vs. Sacramento State on Thursday, giving the team five or more blocks in a game 13 times this season.
- SUU had four blocks against Eastern Washington, three by Cheesman, but the Eagles had seven, with three players swatting a pair of shots. It was just the second time this season, Green Bay was the other, that the Thunderbirds had more shots blocked than they blocked themselves.
- Damon Heuir has scored in double figures in nine straight games, including a 30- and a 28-point effort. Jackson Stevenett has posted double-figures in 14 straight, including a 29- and a 24-point game and five during the streak of 20 or more. Until Wade Collie came off the bench to score a team-high 18 against Eastern Washington either Heuir or Stevenett had led the team in every game this year. Heuir was back on top of the scoring list vs. Sac State with 28 points to give him the team lead 10 times while Stevenett has set the pace in eight contests.
- Heuir scored 30 points in the first match-up between SUU and NAU. It was the highest total in the Big Sky at the time and remained so until NAU's Gabe Rogers poured in 35 vs. North Dakota last Saturday.
- 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.
- 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 held Eastern Washington to .333 shooting (18-54), giving it back-to-back games in which it held opponents under 37 percent and making 7-of-9 in which it has held the opponent under 42 percent.
- The Thunderbirds hit 15-of-25 shots in the second half against Portland State, 60.0 percent, it was their second-best second half of the season (behind .630 vs. San Diego Christian) and their third-best half overall (.625 in the first half at Northern Arizona) this season.
- SUU tied its season-low with 11 turnovers vs. PSU and had the fewest turnovers in the game (the Vikings had 14) for just the third time this season. Two nights later the 'Birds turned it over just 12 times while Eastern Washington also had a dozen turnovers. Against Sacramento State SUU had just 11 turnovers again, but the Hornets gave the ball up just eight times.
- Stevenett scored 19 points at Montana to give him exactly 1,000 for his career. He is just the 11th player in SUU history to break the 1,000 point mark and just the third to cross that threshold since Richard Barton finished his career with 1,419 points in 1993 (third on SUU's all-time list). Jeff Monaco finished his career in 2001 with 1,568 points (second) while Davis Baker finished his in 2010 with 1,205 (sixth).
- As a team Montana hit just two 3-pointers and attempted just seven, opponent season-lows for SUU. The Grizzlies also went without a blocked shot, marking the only time this season an opponent didn't reject at least one T-Bird try.
- Julian Scott, who missed five games with a foot injury, then played in the NAU, Sac State, Weber State and Idaho State games, was lost for the season with a knee injury suffered in practice January 18.
- The Thunderbirds had just four players foul out of the nine non-conference games (including two at TCU) then had 13 disqualifications in the first eight Big Sky contests, including two at both Northern Arizona and Sac State and three against Weber State and at Montana. The 'Birds have gone without a disqualification in the past three games, however.
- 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.
- Stevenett has scored a career-high 29 points twice this season, at Gonzaga and again vs. Weber State. The 29 points at Gonzaga were tied as the highest single-game point total in the Big Sky this season until Heuir scored 30 at NAU. Stevenett's 11 field goals made against the Zags is the second-highest total in the conference.
- 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.
- 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.
- Nick Robinson is the eighth head men's basketball coach in SUU's 50-year history as a four-year institution.
- 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 Northern Arizona: The Lumberjacks are the third-highest ranking Big Sky team in this week's NCAA Division I RPI rankings. NAU checks in at No. 217, behind only Montana (125) and Weber State (145). The Lumberjacks also have the highest-ranked strength of schedule, at 178, in the BSC; they are the only team in the conference which has not faced a team from a lower division this season. The 'Jacks are 2-8 on the road this season, 1-3 away from home in Big Sky games. The conference road win came at Idaho State (60-55) while the losses came at Eastern Washington (82-59), Portland State (79-74) and Weber State (83-70). Two Lumberjacks carry double-figure scoring averages, guards Gabe Rogers (6-2, 175, Sr) and DeWayne Russell (5-11, 155, Fr), who check in at 16.5 and 15.7 points per game, respectively. Rogers leads the Big Sky in scoring while Russell ranks third. Gaellan Bewernick (F, 6-6, 215, So) leads the team with 5.8 rebounds per game while chipping in 6.3 points, while Max Jacobsen (F, 6-8, 230, Jr) has averaged 8.6 points and 4.6 rebounds per game and Stallon Salvidar (G, 6-0, 185, Sr), a guard out of Salt Lake City's Judge Memorial High School, averages 5.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and a team-best 4.2 assists per game. As a team NAU averages 66.7 points per game on .433 shooting (.318 threes) while giving up 76.2 ppg on .475 shooting (.376 threes). The Lumberjacks have converted 66.6 percent of their free throws and have been out-rebounded by an average margin of 36.8-to-32.5.