FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona men's basketball team returns to Big Sky Conference play this week with a pair of home games against Sacramento State and Southern Utah at the Walkup Skydome. The Lumberjacks start the week with the Hornets at 6:35 p.m. Thursday night.
The Sacramento State game is "Back to School Night" with the first 500 youth 12 and under receiving a 2012-13 Lumberjack Academic Planner and a NAU Insulated Lunch Bag.
"They are very well coached," said Murphy. "Coach Katz does an amazing job with that program. When he took it over it was one of the worst programs in the country. What he has been able to do there in a short amount of time has been amazing."
Sacramento State is 6-4 on the season and joins the Lumberjacks among five teams that split the opening two games in league play last month. Weber State, Montana and Southern Utah are tied for first at 2-0.
"They come in as a talented team and they are going to present a lot of challenges and problems for us," said Murphy. "We have got to be ready to defend because they are a high-octane offense."
The Hornets' John Dickson is tied for the league lead in scoring with DeWayne Russell at 15.8 and feature four players among the top 20 scorers in the league. Sophomore Mikh McKinney is averaging 13. 6 points per game, while guard Dylan Garrity is tied for the assist lead in the conference at 5.5 per game and averaging 13.0 ppg.
"They are led by Dylan Garrity, who is the point guard," said Murphy. "He may be the best point guard in the conference as a sophomore. He is a great shooter and distributor. He is a highly intelligent player. He makes them go."
Garrity and NAU senior guard Stallon Saldivar were both named to the Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award preseason list.
The Lumberjacks are coming off a pair of non-conference losses that included a combined 40 turnovers, including a season-high 24 in the loss at BYU on Dec. 27.
Murphy has been working with the team this week on ball-handling, passing and ball security.
"We really wanted to focus on our turnovers, what has been causing them and how we can get better in that area," said Murphy of the emphasis this week.
NAU leads the all-time series with the Hornets 30-10 and owns an 18-2 advantage in Flagstaff, winning the last eight meetings. The two schools split the series last season.
"We are really excited for Big Sky play," said Saldivar. "It has been our focus since June. We are ready to just focus on Big Sky Conference play."
Thursday's game will broadcast on Fox Sports Arizona (DISH: 415/5415, DTV: 686, SUDD: 58), Fox College Sports Pacific and NAU-TV (SUDD: 4/104). Fans can listen to the radio call on 105.1 FM The Big Talker, as well as The Big Talker website and mobile app.
Following the game with the Hornets, Southern Utah visits for an afternoon contest on Saturday, January 5 with a 3:05 p.m. tipoff. Prior to the game, the Lumberjacks will host a free pre-game clinic for youth in sixth grade and under. The youth clinic will begin with a 10:45 a.m. check-in and the clinic will conclude at noon.
The clinic is limited to the first 150 youth. Pre-registration is required by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with your child's name, age, and emergency contact name and phone number. Tickets will be only $5 for all youth and accompanying guests when their son/daughter wears their youth basketball jersey to the game. All youth and their guests will sit in the NAU student section while NAU students are away on break.
"It is important that the Flagstaff community understands we are here not for ourselves but for everyone in the community and especially the young children," said Murphy. "Growing up loving basketball myself, I know that is when you develop your main interests in life. We want those young kids to grow up Lumberjack fans. It is important for them to come and get a chance to be coached by myself and our staff and be here on the Skydome court. I think it is a neat experience."
To purchase single game tickets for this game, click here or call 928-523-5661.