SUU (1-3/0-0 Big Sky) will be looking to snap a three-game skid after falling at home at the hands of UC Riverside, 74-59, last Saturday night. The Thunderbirds, who opened the season with an 85-78 home win over Arizona Christian, fell to 1-1 at home and are 0-2 on the road after a losses at Utah State and Cal.
Portland (3-3/0-0 West Coast), which hosts San Jose State Wednesday night, will be playing its eighth game of the season when it hosts SUU on Sunday. The Pilots head into Wednesday’s game with SJSU with a 3-1 home record that includes wins over UC Davis, Idaho and Columbia and a double-overtime loss at the hands of North Texas.
The Game: Southern Utah (1-3/0-0) at Portland (3-3/0-0, pending the outcome of Wednesday’s gave vs. San Jose State), 1:00 p.m. (PST) Sunday in the Chiles Center (4,852), Portland, Ore.
Practice Schedule: The Thunderbirds work out daily, beginning at 3:00 p.m. Practices are held in the Centrum Arena. All practices are open to the public.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.
The Series: Sunday’s game will be the third in the series between the Thunderbirds and Pilots. The two teams last met in the 1996-97 season when SUU took a 76-70 win in Cedar City. The previous year Portland came out on top of an 88-83 home decision.
SUU Head Coach Nick Robinson (Stanford, 2005), a 2013 finalist for the Joe B. Hall Award which honors the top first-year coach in the nation, has a record of 12-23 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 0-0 vs. the Highlanders.
Robinson is assisted by Todd Okeson (Nevada, 2005), Drew Allen (Southern Utah, 2010) and Chad Bell (Nevada, 2006). Yahosh Bonner (Northern Colorado, 2010) 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.
Pilot Coach Eric Raveno (Stanford, 1989) is in his eighth season as a head coach, all at Portland. He takes a record of 99-129 into Wednesday’s game vs. San Jose State. Raveno was an assistant coach at Stanford when SUU Coach Nick Robinson was a player.
Affiliations: Southern Utah is in its second season as a member of the Big Sky Conference. Portland is a member of the West Coast Conference.
Captains: This year’s captains are seniors Jayson Cheesman and Jaren Jeffery and junior Chris Nsenki.
Pre-Conference Schedule: The Thunderbirds play nine official games before they open Big Sky play on Jan. 2 at North Dakota but the non-conference schedule is heavy with road contests as the team scheduled just three official games – with just one remaining – in the Centrum before the conference opener. After the Thunderbirds meet Portland and Cal State Northridge they return home for their only home game in December, a match-up with UNLV on Dec. 14. The team will then close out 2013 and the non-conference slate with a two-game trip to southern California, where it will face San Diego State on Dec. 18 and San Diego on Dec. 21.
SUU So Far: The Thunderbirds are averaging 62 points per game on .361 shooting (.300 threes) while knocking down 78.3 percent of their free throws. SUU has allowed opponents an average of 79.2 points on .484 shooting (.392 threes) and has been out-rebounded by an average of 38.5-30.5 through the first four games. Freshman point guard Trey Kennedy scored a career- and team-high 15 points vs. UC Riverside to move atop SUU’s scoring chart at 11.3 points per game, with sophomore wing A.J. Hess second at 9.8 ppg. Freshman wing Juwan Major contributes 7.5 ppg. Sophomore forward Casey Oliverson leads the team in rebounding with 5.5 per game while senior forward Jaren Jeffery is second on the squad with 3.5 caroms per game. Kennedy also leads the team with 3.0 assists per game, while senior Jayson Cheesman averages a team-best 1.25 blocks and freshman guard John Marshall leads the ‘Birds with 1.25 steals per game.
About the Pilots:
Four Pilots carry double-figure scoring averages, with senior forward Ryan Nicholas (6-7, 245) leading the way at 15.2 ppg. Junior guard Kevin Bailey (6-5, 205) averages 14.8 ppg while junior center Thomas van der Mars (6-11, 235) checks in at 12.0 ppg and junior guard Bobby Sharp 6-2, 165) has scored at a 10.5 ppg clip. Nicholas also leads the team with 9.2 rebounds per game and van der Mars has averaged 6.2 boards. Sophomore guard Bryce Pressley (6-4, 200) has dished out a team-high 3.5 assists per game while junior center Riley Barker (6-10, 240) has come off the bench to block 10 shots, an average of 1.7 per game.
As a team the Pilots average 78.2 points on 44.3 percent shooting (.316 threes) and they have knocked down 72.4 percent of their free throws. Portland has given up 74.5 ppg on .429 shooting (.402 threes) and the Pilots have out-rebounded their opponents by an average of 38.7-36.8 per game.
• Southern Utah has five true freshmen (not including walk-ons) on the roster and all five have played in every game. Freshman point guard Trey Kennedy has started every game while freshman wing Juwan Major got his first career start at Cal and was back in the starting line-up against UC Riverside. The others have come off the bench in each contest.
• Senior forward Jaren Jeffery and sophomore wing A.J. Hess both had season-high rebounding efforts vs. UC Riverside. Jeffery pulled down eight boards while Hess reeled in seven, one shy of his career-high.
• SUU had 16 offensive rebounds at Cal. The team had 16 or more offensive boards just four times last year, 17 twice and 18 twice.
• Freshman point guard Trey Kennedy and junior guard Chris Nsenki both had career scoring highs vs. UC Riverside, with Kennedy leading the team with a career-best 15 points and Nsenki tying his career-high with 10. Nsenki also tied his career-best with three rebounds vs. the Highlanders.
• Casey Oliverson blocked his first shot as a Thunderbird vs. UC Riverside and went on to block two more to move into second place on the team’s blocks list, behind Jayson Cheesman’s five.
• Cheesman blocked his first two shots of the season at Utah State, then rejected two more at Cal and another vs. UCR, giving him 65 for his career. He is three behind Tarvish Felton (1996-98), who is in fourth place on the SUU career list with 68. Junior center Cal Hanks blocked a shot in the first two games and now has 38 in his career, the 10th-best total at SUU; he is seven behind Richard Barton’s (1990-93) 45.
• Including walk-ons, there are two seniors, three juniors, four sophomores and nine freshmen on the 2013-14 Thunderbird squad.
• SUU received the Team Academic Excellence Award from the National Association of Basketball Coaches for posting a cumulative GPA of 3.2 in 2012-13. Four members of last year’s squad were named to the NABC’s Honors Court as well, including current T-Bird Jaren Jeffery as well as Jordan Johnson, Matt Gardner and Wade Collie. To be eligible for the Honors Court players must have posted a cumulative grade point average of 3.20 or higher at the end of the 2012-13 school year, must have attained junior or senior academic status and been a member of the varsity basketball squad, and must have been at their current institution for at least one full academic year.
• SUU lost a pair of second-team all-Big Sky performers from last season’s squad: forward Jackson Stevenett and guard Damon Heuir. Stevenett – who was named SUU’s Male Athlete of the Year in 2013 – was the league’s third-leading scorer, leading free throw shooter and was eighth on the rebounding list while Heuir was fourth in the conference in scoring last season.
• Jayson Cheesman was third in the Big Sky with 1.9 blocked shots per game (60 total) and was 10th in the conference with 6.0 rebounds per game.
• Cal Hanks ranked ninth in the Sky with an average of 1.2 blocks in just 13.5 minutes per game last year.
• As a team the Thunderbirds led the Big Sky in offensive rebounds with 12.1 per game last season. The ‘Birds were also second in the BSC in rebounding margin, defensive rebounds and blocked shots last year. SUU averaged three more rebounds per game than their opponents, pulled down 25.5 defensive boards and blocked an average of five shots per game.
• Seven teams qualify for the Big Sky tournament, which will be hosted by the regular-season champion, March 13-15.
• SUU is in its 51st season as a four-year institution, its 26th 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.