Southern Utah's men's basketball team opens a four-game road stretch Thursday night when the Thunderbirds take on Idaho State in Pocatello, Idaho. Following Thursday's game the team plays at Weber State on Saturday, then is back on the road next week at Portland State and Eastern Washington.
The four-game stretch away from home matches SUU's longest of the season but is the longest true road swing as the previous four away-game string included a pair of neutral site match-ups at Nevada's World Vision Classic.
The Thunderbirds (9-12/7-5 Big Sky) are coming off a four-game homestand - also the longest of the season - and they were able to take advantage, winning all four contests. They snapped a five-game skid with a 76-63 win over Portland State on Jan. 24, and followed that by getting past Eastern Washington 69-55, then posting a 79-67 triumph over Sacramento State and a 78-67 victory against Northern Arizona last Saturday.
SUU's win over Sacramento State, coupled with a Montana State loss at Eastern Washington, pushed the Thunderbirds back into a tie for third place in the Big Sky with the Bobcats. The teams stayed even as each won on Saturday.
Idaho State (4-17/3-9 Big Sky) will be looking to snap a five-game skid of its own on Thursday night. The Bengals picked up their first road win of the season in Cedar City on Jan. 12, 54-53, but they've won just one game since, a 60-59 home victory over Sacramento State. ISU is 3-3 at home, including Big Sky wins over Sac State and Northern Colorado and conference losses to North Dakota, Weber State and Northern Arizona.
The Game: Southern Utah (9-12/7-5) at Idaho State (4-17/3-9), 7:05 p.m. Holt Arena (8,000), Pocatello, Idaho.
The Series: SUU leads the series with Idaho State 12-7 but the Bengals came out on top of the last meeting, a 54-53 win in Cedar City on Jan. 12. Prior to that meeting the two had not met since the 2004-05 season, when current Bengal Coach Bill Evans was at the helm of the SUU program. SUU is 6-5 vs. the Bengals in Pocatello, including an 82-79 win during the 2004-05 season.
TV: There will be no live television coverage of Thursday'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.
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.
Thunderbirds To Host Northridge In BracketBuster: SUU will host Cal State Northridge in the BracketBuster tournament at 7:35 p.m. on Feb. 23. The Matadors and Thunderbirds competed against each other in the American West Conference (along with current Big Sky member Sacramento State) during the 1994-95 and 1995-96 seasons.
Coming Up: The Thunderbirds remain on the road next week as they continue the season-long four-game road stretch with games at 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 vs. Cat State Northridge on Feb. 23.
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.
Captains: This year's captains are seniors Jackson Stevenett and Tyson Koehler.
Heuir Named BSC Player of the Week: SUU's Damon Heuir earned his second Big Sky Conference Player of the Week award on Monday following his play in the Thunderbirds' wins over Sacramento State and Northern Arizona last week. Heuir averaged 27.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game in the two wins. He scored 28 points with seven rebounds, seven assists and a steal in the team's 79-67 win over Sacramento State, then scored 27 points with four rebounds, an assist and a steal two nights later against the Lumberjacks. Heuir's first BSC Player of the Week award came after he scored 30 points to lead SUU to its first road win of the season, a 90-77 victory at Northern Arizona on Jan. 5. That week he shared the honors with Weber State's Scott Bamforth.
Head Coach Nick Robinson (Stanford, 2005) is 9-12 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 0-1 versus ISU.
Robinson is assisted by Jared Barrett (Eastern Oregon, 1996), Todd Okeson (Nevada, 2005) and Drew Allen (Southern Utah, 2010).
Idaho State is coached by Bill Evans (Southern Utah '72). Coach Evans spent 14 seasons as head coach at SUU, where he compiled a record of 209-224 and won more games than any other coach in Thunderbird history. He brings an overall mark of 213-241 into Saturday's game. Coach Evans is assisted by three former SUU players, Andy Ward, who played at SUU from 1992 to 1994; Jay Collins, who played from 2001 to 2003; and graduate assistant Dave Marek, who played from 2005 to 2009. Coach Evans is 1-0 versus 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. Idaho State 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 27 points and Jackson Stevenett added a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds to lead Southern Utah past Northern Arizona 78-67 on Saturday. The Thunderbirds took an 11-8 lead on a Heuir 3-pointer with 15:03 to play and never trailed again, although NAU pulled close several times. Heuir scored 18 points in the first half after hitting 3-of-5 3-point attempts while Stevenett did most of his damage after halftime, scoring nine points and pulling down six rebounds after the break. Northern Arizona hit four of its first five shots in the second half to cut the deficit to 44-40 but Stevenett gave the Thunderbirds some cushion with four quick points and Heuir added another transition lay-in to extend the lead back to ten at 55-45 halfway through the period. The Lumberjacks worked to chip away at the margin in the closing minutes, but Heuir and Stevenett answered each try with a score to help the Thunderbirds secure the win. Heuir's 27 points followed his 28-point performance against Sacramento State on Thursday night. Jordan Johnson dished out a career high seven assists. Southern Utah held a 39-34 rebounding advantage in the contest and outshot the Lumberjacks 45.5 percent to 43.6 percent. The Thunderbirds also recorded seven steals, which they turned into 15 fast break points and 19 points off turnovers.
T-Birds In The National Ranks: The Thunderbirds have three players ranked in the top-100 in the NCAA through Sunday's games, and the team ranks among the top 100 in three categories as well. Jayson Cheesman ranks 39th in the nation in blocks per game with an average of 2.24, while Jackson Stevenett is 51st in free throw percentage at .854 (and 111th in points per game at 16.4) and Damon Heuir cracked the top-100 in scoring this week at 16.8 ppg. As a team the Thunderbirds are 23rd in the country with 5.3 blocks per game, 49th in rebounding margin (plus 5.0) and 73rd in free throw percentage (.724).
T-Birds In The Big Sky:
Heuir and Stevenett are 1-2 in scoring in the conference when all games are considered. Heuir averages 16.8 points per game while Stevenett checks in at 16.4 ppg. Stevenett is also second in free throw percentage at .854, seventh in rebounding with 6.15 per game, eighth in offensive rebounds per game (2.1) and 11th in defensive rebounds per game (4.1). Heuir is also fifth in 3-pointers per game (2.2) and 10th in free throw percentage (.798), while Cheesman second in blocks per game with 2.2 when all games are considered, sixth in rebounding with 6.19 rpg and seventh in defensive rebounds with 4.5 per game. Cal Hanks is seventh in blocks per game with 1.1. The team leads the conference in offensive rebounds (12.0 rpg), and is second in field goal percentage defense (.420), in blocks (5.2 per game), in rebounding margin (plus-5.0) and in defensive rebounds (26.2 drpg).
When only conference games are considered Heuir is second and Stevenett is third in the Big Sky with 18.7 and 18.4 points per game respectively. Heuir is third in 3-pointers per game (2.5) and fourth in free throw percentage (.853) while Stevenett is sixth in free throw percentage at .824. Cheesman is sixth and Stevenett is eighth in rebounding with 6.9 and 6.6 caroms per game, respectively, with Stevenett fifth in offensive rebounds (2.3 rpg) and Cheesman sixth in defensive rebounds (5.0). Cheesman is also third in blocks per game (2.0) and Hanks is seventh in blocks (1.3). Stevenett also ranks eighth in field goal percentage (.531). The team leads the league in offensive rebounds (12.6 pg), in 3-point defense (.297) and in field goal percentage defense (.382), is second in defensive rebounds (26.3 per game) and rebounding margin (plus-4.3), and is third in scoring average (70.2 ppg), scoring margin (plus-4.1 ppg) and blocked shots per game (5.5).
Moving Up The Ranks:
Jackson Stevenett has 1,072 points in his three-plus seasons as a Thunderbird. He is currently 11th on SUU's career scoring list and needs just five to tie Russell Otis (1984-86) in 10th place with 1,077. He also has 441 career rebounds, which ranks 13th all time at SUU. He passed former SUU standout Dan Beus (436, 2000-02) with his 10 against NAU and now needs nine caroms to tie Robin Haight, who had 450 from 1972-to-1976, in 12th place and 22 boards to move into the SUU career 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 last Thursday against Sac State - has 47 rejections this season, which ranks fifth on SUU's single-season list and seventh on the career list. He needs one more to tie Kenyatta Clyde in fourth place and 17 to tie Matt Hodgson (2009-10) atop the single-season list. His three last week moved him past Richard Barton (1986-87, 1990-93) and Fred House (1998-2001) and into seventh on the career list. Next up on the career chart is Donnie Jackson, who rejected 55 shots from 2001 to 2003.
Cleaning The Glass:
- The Thunderbirds have won the battle of the boards 16 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. The T-Birds 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, came out on top in the rematch with SAC, 41-26 and out-rebounded Northern Arizona 39-34.
- 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 5.3 blocks per game, which ranks second in the Big Sky. The Thunderbirds have rejected 111 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 seven shots vs. Northern Arizona on Saturday, giving the team five or more blocks in a game 14 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.
- Northern Arizona is probably happy to see the last of Damon Heuir. The senior guard scored 30 points in the first match-up between SUU and NAU - the highest total in the Big Sky until NAU's Gabe Rogers poured in 35 vs. North Dakota on Jan. 26 - and he poured in another 27 last Saturday. In his two games against the Lumberjacks, Heuir hit 15-of-30 shots, 7-of-12 3-pointers and hit 20-of-24 free throws. He also averaged four rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.5 steals and blocked a shot against NAU.
- Heuir has scored in double figures in 10 straight games, with 14 or more points in each game and four 20-point-plus efforts. Jackson Stevenett has posted double-figures in 15 straight, including 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 has led the team in scoring 11 times while Stevenett has set the pace in nine contests.
- Stevenett notched his third double-double of the season vs. NAU with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
- Jordan Johnson dished out a career-best seven assists vs. NAU. It was the third time in the last six games he has posted a new career-high in dimes.
- 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 and 18-of-30 after the break against Sacramento State. Both worked out to be 60.0 percent nights, the team's second-best second halves of the season (behind .630 vs. San Diego Christian) and their third-best halves 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, then SUU and NAU tied with 13 turnovers apiece.
- 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.
Scouting Idaho State: The Bengals have played just six home games this season, five of them in conference play, with 13 road contests and a pair of neutral-court match-ups. Their match-up zone-based defense is one of the best defenses in the Big Sky, ranking second overall and third when only conference games are considered in points allowed per game, at 64.1 ppg in BSC games and 63.1 ppg overall. Three Bengals, Melvin Morgan, Chris Hansen and Tomas Sanchez, carry double-figure scoring averages. Morgan leads the team with 116. ppg while Hansen adds 11.1 and Sanchez, who is the top assist man with 3.5 per game, averages 10.1 ppg. Andre Hatchett scores at a 7.5 ppg clip and averages a team-best 4.1 rebounds per game while Sanchez pulls down 3.6 rpg. As a team ISU averages 53.6 points per game on .394 shooting (.302 threes) while allowing opponents 63.1 ppg on .448 shooting (.383 threes). The Bengals have converted 67.7 percent of their free throw opportunities and have been out-rebounded by an average of 34.5-to-27.1 boards per game.