PROVO, Utah – Senior guard Stallon Saldivar starts the final semester of his college basketball career Thursday in a marquee game against Brigham Young at the Marriott Center in Provo just down the road from his hometown in Salt Lake City. The game will serve as the final non-conference contest for Saldivar and the Lumberjacks before the restart of Big Sky Conference play on Jan. 3 against Sacramento State.
"It means a lot," said Saldivar. "They are one of the powerhouses in Utah. I grew up watching them and Utah go at it all the time. It will be fun. The Marriott Center is a great environment. I am excited to get out there."
Saldivar will be playing in the 100th game of his career against BYU in front of his family and friends. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. Mountain time. The game can be heard on the Lumberjack Radio Network on 105.1 FM The Big Talker and seen on BYU-TV (DISH: 9403, DirecTV: 374, SUDD: 70).
The two schools will be meeting for just the third time in school history. The all-time series is 1-1 with the Cougars winning the last meeting in Prescott last season by the score of 87-52. The only previous game took place in Flagstaff in 1946 with the Lumberjacks winning the contest by the score of 54-31.
As one of the leaders among a group of six seniors on the squad, Saldivar has been important to the transition this season under Head Coach Jack Murphy.
"We are fortunate to have a senior with a world of experience and I have a lot of confidence in Stallon Saldivar," said Murphy. "He has done an outstanding job since I took over in April. He has worked hard and been a leader on and off the court. It is a role that he had to grow into."
Improvement has been one of the trademarks of Saldivar's career on the Mountain campus. He played in all 28 games as a freshman for NAU out of Judge Memorial High School in Salt Lake City, Utah. He signed with NAU after leading Judge Memorial to the Utah state title as a junior and recording a pair of top-five state finishes in his prep career. He was named the 2008 3A State Tournament Most Valuable Player, while earning all-state and all-region first team honors. As a senior, he was named to the 2009 3A All-State team for the second consecutive season and was the Region 10 Most Valuable Player.
In his second season in Flagstaff, Saldivar was named the Most Improved Player in the program, leading the Big Sky Conference in assists and ranking 31st overall in Division I and seventh among all sophomores in the country at 5.4 assists per game. Last year, he improved his scoring production, averaging a career-high 6.7 points per game with 4.9 assists per game, the third-best total in the Big Sky and 66th-best overall in Division I.
Saldivar has continued to play at a high level this year for the Lumberjacks, averaging 5.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists. He recently surpassed the 400 assist mark for his career, a milestone reached by just 18 players in league history (including four Lumberjacks) and could finish his career as the second-best assist man in program history.
In true point guard fashion, Saldivar, who was recently named one of 85 preseason candidates for the Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year award for the second consecutive season, dishes the attention to his teammates.
"It is quite an honor," said Saldivar of reaching the 400 assist mark. "I cannot take the credit by any means. I played with a lot of great players who have produced. I gave them the basketball and they put it in the basket. I get the accolades but I give it all to them. They deserve it as much as I do. It has been fun."
With 408 assists entering the game with the Cougars, Saldivar will pass Kyle Feuerbach (2001-05) with four assists and has 1980's Lumberjack greats Jeff Altman (1981-85, 427) and Harry Payne (1983-87, 435) within reach over the next month.
Games against teams like BYU have been valuable in helping the development of the team this season. The Lumberjacks have also played ranked UNLV and Arizona squads, as well as games at Oregon and Colorado.
"Playing the big schools we have played has been a lot of hard work and has prepared us for our conference," said Saldivar.
Following Thursday's game, NAU will put the focus back on the Big Sky.
"We want to make the Big Sky Tournament," said Saldivar. "It is one of the team goals."
When the Lumberjacks make the postseason, Saldivar will have a hand in it as he does every goal for the team.