On Saturday, Dec. 31., the Southern Utah University Thunderbirds will be at home against the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros. The Vaqueros enter the game No. 9 in the WAC after a 81-66 blowout loss against the Utah Tech Trailblazers. The loss dropped UTRGV’s record to 8-5.
Looking at UTRGV
In the loss to Utah Tech, the Vaqueros shot 37.3% from the field, 23.1% from beyond the arc and 66.7% from the foul line. The offense could not get going. Senior guard Justin Johnson is the team’s main source of offense, but Johnson shot 2-12 from the field and only earned five points. Which is surprising because he is tied for the second most points per game in the WAC with 19.8.
Sophomore guard Will Johnston’s 24 points was a game-high against the Trailblazers. Johnston shot 33.3% from three-point land and 38.8% on field goal attempts. The Vaqueros’ second leading scorer was junior forward Daylen Williams, who had 11 points. Williams shot 83.3% from the field and had a team-high nine rebounds.
The Vaqueros’ paint defense struggled due to foul trouble. Averaging 1.77 blocks per game this season is graduate center Dima Zdor, who unfortunately only played 22 minutes and fouled out early in the second half. Zdor finished the game with eight points and four rebounds.
UTRGV averages 82.8 points per game on 35.2% three-point shooting and 50% from the field. They will have to hold back SUU’s average 89.2 points per game, which will be difficult because of the Vaqueros’ 16.7 turnovers per game.
Thunderbirds’ last time out
On Wednesday, Dec. 28., the Southern Utah University Thunderbirds won on the road against former Western Athletic Conference champions the New Mexico State University Aggies. The two battled all 40 minutes as the game came down to the wire 79-75. With the win, the Thunderbirds have a 9-5 record and sit at No. 3 in the WAC.
The Thunderbirds were lights out from three-point land against the reigning WAC champion. SUU shot 43.5% from three, 47.4% from the field and 55.6% from the charity strip. The team’s defense was smothering, forcing 16 turnovers that led to 25 easy points.
Senior guard Tevian Jones shot 71% from beyond the arc and finished the game with 20 points. Jones added two assists and one steal while playing the entire game for head coach Todd Simon. He is tied with the Vaqueros’ guard Justin Johnson for second in scoring at 19.8 points.
Jason Spurgin had the paint locked down with two blocks and collected a game-high three steals. The sophomore center amassed nine rebounds and went for 12 points on 50% shooting from the field.
Leading the point, sophomore guard Drake Allen finished with four assists but had six turnovers as well. Allen made up for that by shooting 62.5% from the field and finished with 14 points.
Senior forward Maizen Fausett added 10 points of his own and brought down five rebounds, four on the offensive glass. Ending with nine points, senior guard Harrison Butler hauled in seven rebounds and dished out two assists.
Simon kept the rotation tight and only played eight Thunderbirds against the Aggies. Graduate guard Cameron Healy shot 50% from three-point land, and his 11 points led bench scoring. Dee Barnes only had three points, but the senior guard’s defense was big for SUU.
The Thunderbirds and Vaqueros will be playing their first-ever game against each other. SUU will look to keep their conference record perfect in the America First Event Center at 1 p.m.
Article by: Chevy Blackburn
Photos by: SUU Athletics