Southern Utah’s men’s basketball team heads back on the road for the penultimate road trip of the 2013-14 season this week as the Thunderbirds open a two-game swing at Northern Arizona on Saturday. The game also marks the beginning of the second half of Big Sky Conference play for the Thunderbirds.
SUU (1-18/0-10 Big Sky), which is looking for its first Big Sky win of the season, is coming off a 54-52 defeat at the hands of Montana State, its fifth straight loss by eight or fewer points. The Thunderbirds lost a 70-36 decision against Northern Arizona in Cedar City the last time the two played, but that setback seemed to give the team a spark as the team has continually improved since that point, with just one double-digit loss in the interim.
Northern Arizona (9-12/6-4 Big Sky) has gone 3-3 since the meeting with SUU on Jan. 13. Following that game the Lumberjacks returned home to defeat Eastern Washington and Portland State before losing three in a row, at Northern Colorado and North Dakota and at home against Weber State before righting the ship the last time out with a 67-65 win over Idaho State last Saturday.
The Game: Southern Utah (1-18/0-10) at Northern Arizona (9-12/6-4), Thursday at 6:35 p.m. (MST) in the Walkup Skydome.
Practice Schedule: While at home the Thunderbirds work out daily, beginning at 3:00 p.m. with occasional adjustments due to travel and class schedules. Practices are held in the Centrum Arena. All practices are open to the public.
Media Availability: Players and coaches are made available for interviews on Tuesdays prior to practice at 2:30 p.m., with occasional adjustments because of travel and class schedules.
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 will be 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 and selected road contests will be available at www.suutbirds.com.
Video Highlights: Video highlights of the Thunderbirds’ home games will be 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: NAU holds a 14-9 edge in the series with the Thunderbirds, including a 70-36 win in Cedar City earlier this season. SUU swept the series last year, picking up a 90-77 win in Flagstaff, then defending the home court with a 78-67 victory. Although SUU won at Northern Arizona last season, the Lumberjacks hold an 11-3 edge against the Thunderbirds in games played in Flagstaff.
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 12-38 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 2-1 vs. NAU.
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 Arizona is coached by Jack Murphy (Arizona, 2005). Coach Murphy is 20-33 in his second season at NAU and his second season overall as a head coach. Murphy is 1-2 vs. SUU.
Pre-Conference Schedule: The Thunderbirds’ non-conference schedule was one of the toughest in the nation, as SUU’s strength of schedule to this point ranked 46th in Division I and second in the Big Sky after their nine non-conference games. The Thunderbirds’ 2013-14 SOS has been 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: Through the first half of the Big Sky season, the Thunderbirds are averaging 56.5 points per game on 41.8 percent shooting (.328 threes) while knocking down 71.1 percent of their free throws in conference games. SUU has allowed conference opponents an average of 70.8 points on .476 shooting (.363 threes) and has been out-rebounded by an average of 33.6-27.1 caroms per game. Freshman point guard Trey Kennedy leads the team in scoring and assists with 10.6 points and 2.7 dimes per game, while sophomore wing A.J. Hess is second in scoring at 10.2 ppg and in assists with 1.9 per game. Sophomore forward Casey Oliverson leads the team in rebounding with 4.8 caroms per Big Sky game while senior forward Jaren Jeffery is second on the squad with 4.0. Kennedy, Jeffery and freshman guard John Marshall each have seven steals, an average of 0.7 per game, while senior Jayson Cheesman averages a team-best 0.8 block per outing.
Scouting Northern Arizona:
The Lumberjacks are 6-2 at home this season, including a 4-1 mark in Big Sky games. The only conference setback came at the hands of league-leading Weber State (76-67) last Thursday. Aside from the loss to WSU the ‘Jacks have racked up wins over Sacramento State, Eastern Washington, Portland State and Idaho State in the Skydome. In non-conference action NAU has home wins over San Diego Christian and Grand Canyon, with a loss to Hawai’i.
Three ‘Jacks carry double-figure scoring averages, led by JC transfer Quinton Upshur (G, 6-5, 207, Jr) at 15.7 ppg. Senior forward Max Jacobsen (6-8, 230) is second on the team in both scoring and rebounding, at 13.6 ppg and 4.2 rpg, while guard Aaseem Dixon (6-0, 185), another JC transfer, averages 12.6 ppg and a team-best 2.6 assists. Junior forward Gaellan Bewernick (6-6, 215) is the team’s top rebounder, with 6.5 per game.
As a team NAU averages 68.1 ppg on .456 shooting (.362 threes) while allowing an average of 69.3 points on .451 shooting (.380 threes). The Lumberjacks have knocked down 71.7 percent of their free throws and out-rebounded their opponents by an average of 33.0-to-31.2 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 all but one game while guard John Marshall has started 11 games and wing Juwan Major has started four. Wing McKay Anderson has had one start – alongside Kennedy, Major and Marshall – at Cal State Northridge. Wing Race Parsons hasn’t had a start but he has appeared in all but one game. In addition to the freshmen, forward Casey Oliverson, a sophomore in his first season with the Thunderbirds, has started 11 games.
• The Thunderbirds held Montana State to just 22.6 percent shooting in the first half (7-of-31), the team’s best defensive half of the season. The previous best came at Idaho State, where the Bengals his 7-of-27 shots (.259) in the first half.
• The ‘Birds combined to block six shots against Montana State, two by senior Jayson Cheesman and freshman Juwan Major and one from sophomore Casey Oliverson and junior Cal Hanks. It was the team’s third-highest total of the season and most since it rejected a season-high eight shots at Idaho State.
• Hanks tied his season-high with a team-best seven rebounds against Montana State.
• Freshman wing Race Parsons tied his career-high with eight points vs. Montana State. Parsons has scored exactly eight in three of the last four games.
• Senior Jaren Jefferey, sophomore A.J. Hess and Oliverson co-led the Thunderbirds with three assists apiece against MSU. For Oliverson it was a career-high total, while it was a season-high and career-high-tying figure for Jeffery.
• SUU tallied 14 assists vs. MSU, it tied its second-best effort of the year (at Eastern Washington) and was one shy of its season-high (15 at Portland State)
• After Cheesman’s two blocks vs. Montana State he now has a team-high 20 this season. Cheesman, who ranks fourth on the team’s career blocks list with 80, needs five to move into a tie for third place with Kenyatta Clyde (1997-99) with 85.
• Junior center Cal Hanks has 11 blocks this season. He had one vs. Montana State to give him 47 in his career, and out of a tie with Fred House (1999-2001) for eighth on the SUU career list. Next up is Donnie Jackson (2001-03), who had 55 career blocks.
• Oliverson has 10 rejections. He blocked his first shot as a Thunderbird vs. UC Riverside and finished the game with three, the team’s single-game high at that point which was tied by Hanks at Idaho State.