HONOLULU, Hawai'i – Northern Arizona Head Coach Jack Murphy has lots of good memories in the state of Hawai'i. His family has some roots in the Aloha state and he got both engaged and married on the island of Maui. He hopes to create another special memory when his Lumberjack basketball program takes on the Rainbow Warriors of Hawai'i Saturday afternoon at the Stan Sheriff Center.
"It is a really good opportunity to challenge ourselves again with a great opponent on the road," said Head Coach Jack Murphy. "Especially at this time of the year, it is getting us ready for the final two weeks of the season when we play some of the best teams in the conference both at home and on the road."
The game is a break from Big Sky Conference action for ESPN's Ramada Worldwide BracketBusters event. Northern Arizona is playing in BracketBusters for the seventh time in school history and third consecutive season overall. NAU is 3-3 all-time in the event, posting wins over Wichita State (2008), San Jose State (2007) and Cal Poly (2011). The Lumberjacks have lost games to Tulsa (2005) Western Kentucky (2006) and UC Davis (2012) in its previous participation.
"It is a nice break from conference games," said Murphy, whose team hosts Idaho State and Weber State next week to close out their home slate. "It gave us some time to rest this week without a game on Thursday and it gets us out to one of the most beautiful states in our country."
For the Lumberjacks, an extended road trip added into a season full of difficult travel was welcomed, especially to Hawai'i.
"It will be nice to get away and hopefully have a little fun in the sun," said senior guard Michael Dunn. "The rainy and 80 degree weather in Hawaii is better than snow and 12 degrees in Flagstaff. We want to go out there and steal a win. It is a business trip but still want to have a little fun."
NAU (10-16) recently completed a road trip with games at Northern Colorado and North Dakota that totaled more than 2,800 miles. The Lumberjacks close the regular season campaign at Montana State and Montana following two home games next week.
"They guys have done really well on the road and we have played better in the second game of road trips than the first," said Murphy. "I think the guys handle it well mentally. We play so many road games throughout the year that we are prepared. We know what to expect. We are not going to find any surprises on the road."
Saturday's game will tip off at 8 p.m. Arizona time. Fans can listen to the call courtside by the Voice of the Lumberjacks Mitch Strohman on the Lumberjack Radio Network on 105.1 FM The Big Talker, online on the Big Talker website and The Big Talker mobile app. It will also be available online from OC Sports streamed from their statewide telecast.
Hawai'i (15-11) enters the game coming off two straight conference road losses and is looking forward to returning home where they have won six of their last seven games.
Christian Standhardinger, a 6-8 junior from Munich, Germany, has recorded nine games of 20 or more points this season and is coming off a five-game stretch where he averaged 22.4 points and 11.2 rebounders per game, earning back-to-back Big West Player of the Week honors. Senior center Vander Joaquim is scoring 13.7 points per game and ranks among the Hawai'i career top 10 scoring leaders.
"They have some good size and their front line is very good," said Murphy. "They have skill and experience on the perimeter. It is a team that has played in one of the better conferences in the West over the past few years in the WAC and now they are in the Big West."
While they have never met, the two schools have played two common opponents this season in UNLV and UC Davis, giving a comparative measure entering the contest.
UNLV defeated both teams, while NAU posted a win at UC Davis on Nov. 18. Hawai'i lost twice to UC Davis, including a loss at home earlier this season and on the road last week.
"They have been really good at home," said Murphy. "They are very talented and are very well coached. We are going to have to go in there with the right mental framework to compete."
The Lumberjacks are coming off an exciting win at North Dakota in overtime last Saturday. Senior guard Stallon Saldivar, who missed the game with an ankle injury, will be a game-time decision against the Rainbow Warriors.