FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona men's basketball team hosts Southern Utah Saturday at 3:05 p.m. at the Walkup Skydome looking for its first win streak of the season.
"It is the only thing we have not done this season is get games back-to-back," said Head Coach Jack Murphy of his team not posting back-to-back wins all season. "Southern Utah presents a different set of challenges. They are a very inside-outside type of team."
The Thunderbirds will also be looking to post-back-to-back wins after edging Northern Colorado, 51-50, at home on Dec. 29. The Thunderbirds opened the Big Sky schedule with a 79-67 win over North Dakota on Dec. 17. Jackson Stevenett, who has led the team in scoring and assists the past three games, scored 14 points against the Bears, while Wade Collie added 13, including the game-winner with 12 seconds to play.
Head Coach Nick Robinson is 4-7 in his first season at SUU and his first season as a head coach. Coach Robinson came to Southern Utah from LSU, where he spent three seasons on the staff.
"Nick Robinson is a rookie head coach like I am," said Murphy. "He is a great guy and I have had a long relationship with him and have known him a lot of years. He has coached his team up. They are 2-0 and are in first place. They are the hunted. We have to be ready for them to come in here with the poise that has got them two victories already in conference."
SUU is the first team to win its first two Big Sky Conference games in its first season of play since Cal State Northridge back in 1996-97. CSN lost its third game to Montana State. The last team to win its first three games in its first season in the league was Boise State, which went on to start out 4-0 back in 1970-71.
NAU is coming off its 57-50 win over Sacramento State on Thursday. They showcased a defensive effort that Murphy hopes to see become a trait of the team.
Sacramento State, which averaged 72.8 points per game entering the game, had four players averaging 10 or more points entering the game and the NAU defense held each below their season scoring average. John Dickson was leading the league in scoring at 15.8 points and was held to 12 points on 4-of-12 shooting. Mikh McKinney scored just nine points (13.3 ppg.) and sophomore guard Dylan Garrity was held to six points (13.0 ppg.).
Senior guard Michael Dunn led the effort with a career-high tying four steals as the Lumberjacks forced 20 turnovers in the contest.
"We have come a long way and we can still go a long way," said Dunn. "Defense is all about want to. We realize now that defense can get us to the top of the conference. When we don't have great offensive nights like Thursday or the last couple games, we can hang our hat on the defensive end and hold teams to 50 points. A lot of times that will get us the win."
NAU leads the all-time series with the Thunderbirds 13-8 and owns a 10-2 mark in Flagstaff against Southern Utah. NAU has won each of the last five meetings in the series overall and last five games in Flagstaff. It is the first meeting between the two schools since the 2002-03 season.
Prior to the game, the Lumberjacks will host a free pre-game clinic on the Walkup Skydome court for youth in sixth grade and under. The youth clinic will begin with a 10:45 a.m. check-in and conclude at noon. It is open to walk-up participants. All youth who attend the clinic will also receive a free game ticket courtesy of the "Friends of Jack" program.
Parents and guardians can also pre-register by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with your child's name, age, and emergency contact name and phone number. Tickets are 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.
Saturday's game-day activities include Louie's Fun Zone and a post-game autograph session. Louie's Fun Zone will feature basketball hoops, inflatable games, and much more. It will open one hour prior to tip-off and will close 5 minutes prior to tip-off.
The 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.
To purchase single game tickets for this game, click here or call 928-523-5661.