T-Bird Men Host League-Leading Wildcats

February 11, 2014
By SUU Strategic Communication

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Sophomore Casey Oliverson has been the Thunderbirds' top rebounder this season
Sophomore Casey Oliverson has been the Thunderbirds' top rebounder this season
Courtesy: Deb Hill

Southern Utah’s men’s basketball team begins a four-game homestand Thursday when the Thunderbirds host in-state rival and Big Sky leader Weber State at 7:05 in the Centrum.

With the game the Thunderbirds (1-20/0-12 Big Sky) begin a regular-season ending stretch of games which includes six at home and just two on the road. The Thunderbirds, who are coming off a 68-56 road loss at Sacramento State on Monday night, lost a 65-59 decision to the Wildcats the last time the teams met, on Jan. 18 in Ogden.

Weber State (13-7/10-2 Big Sky) has gone 7-1 since the meeting with SUU in Ogden and has moved from fourth place to the top of the Big Sky standings. The only hiccup along the road for the Wildcats in the last nine games (they won at North Dakota prior to the win over SUU) was a 78-75 overtime loss at Sacramento State that took Dylan Garrity’s 75-foot buzzer beater to settle.

The Game:Weber State (13-7/10-2) at Southern Utah (1-19/0-11) Thursday at 7:05 p.m. (MST) in the Centrum Arena (5,300), Cedar City, Utah.

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 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:Weber State holds a 25-6 edge in the series with the Thunderbirds and has won eight straight after the 65-59 win in Ogden earlier this season. The Wildcats hold a 7-4 edge over the T-Birds in games played in Cedar City, including victories in the last three played in the Centrum. Southern Utah’s last win against the ‘Cats was a 75-63 home triumph during the 2006-07 season.

The Coaches:

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 12-40 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 0-3 vs. the Wildcats.

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.

Weber State is coached by Randy Rahe (Buena Vista ‘82). Coach Rahe, who is in his seventh season at Weber State, brings an overall and WSU record of 163-82 into the game. Coach Rahe is 8-1 vs. the Thunderbirds.

Captains:This year’s captains are seniors Jayson Cheesman and Jaren Jeffery and junior Chris Nsenki.

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:In Big Sky games the Thunderbirds are averaging 56.5 points per game on 42.6 percent shooting (.318 threes) while knocking down 67.7 percent of their free throws. SUU has allowed conference opponents an average of 70 points on .469 shooting (.367 threes) and has been out-rebounded by an average of 34.1-26.8 caroms per game. Freshman point guard Trey Kennedy leads the team in scoring and assists with 9.3 points and 2.7 dimes per game, while sophomore wing A.J. Hess is second in scoring at 9.2 ppg and in assists with 1.8 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 3.8 and Hess averages 3.5. Freshman guard John Marshall is tied for second on the squad in assists with 1.8 per game and leads the team with 10 steals, an average of 0.9 per game, while senior Jayson Cheesman averages a team-best 0.75 blocks per outing.

Scouting Weber State:

The Wildcats have played six of their last eight at home where they have an 11-1 record, with the only loss coming at the hands of Utah State in the home-opener. They have not fared as well on the road, however, with a 2-6 mark in games played away from the Dee Events Center. In Big Sky play they are 2-2 on the road, with wins at North Dakota and Northern Arizona and losses at Northern Colorado and Sacramento State.

Senior wing Davion Berry (6-4, 185), a first-team all-Big Sky and all-District performer last season, leads three Wildcats with double-figure scoring averages at 19.0 points per game. Freshman guard Jeremy Senglin (6-2, 185) averages 11.2 ppg while senior center Kyle Tresnak (6-10, 240), a second-team all-Big Sky honoree in 2012-13, connects on 56.1 percent of his shots to add 11.0 ppg. Berry also leads the team with 3.8 assists per game. Sophomore forward Joel Bolomboy (6-9, 225), the fourth-leading scorer on the squad at 8.9 points per game, leads the team and the Big Sky with 11.2 rebounds per game, Tresnak corrals 5.2 rpg and Berry averages 4.5.

As a team the Wildcats average 72.8 ppg on 47.1 percent shooting (.377 threes) while allowing opponents 65.5 ppg on 41.1 percent shooting (.333 threes). The Wildcats have hit 72.3 percent of their free throws and have out-rebounded their opponents by an average of 35.6 to 32.5 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 13 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 13 games.

Thunderbird Notes:

Jaren Jeffery led the T-Birds with a career-high 21 points at Sacramento State, while Juwan Major added 11, his second-highest total and most since he had 12 in the season-opener. Neither player started and the ‘Birds wound up with 45 points off the bench.

• Jeffery hit 9-of-11 shots and Major converted 5-of-8 vs. the Hornets. In the last five games Jeffery has hit 25-of-38 shots (.658) and has not been below 50 percent.

Race Parsons dished out a team- and career-high four assists at Sacramento State and the team finished with 16, a season-high.

• Jeffery also led the team with two blocks, his most since he rejected a pair vs. UNLV back on Dec. 14.

• Sacramento State held SUU’s two leading scorers, Trey Kennedy and A.J. Hess, scoreless. It was just the second scoreless game this season for both players.

• The Sacramento State game was definitely a tale of two halves. SUU hit 33 percent of its first-half shots but improved to 52 in the second while the Hornets knocked down 63 percent in the first frame and 38 in the second. SUU also had eight turnovers before halftime but just five after the break.