The Southern Utah University Thunderbirds will start the Hercules Tire Western Athletic Conference Tournament off in the quarter finals after securing a first round bye against California Baptist University on Friday, March 3. With the bye, Southern Utah will be matched up against the winner of the Utah Tech University and Stephen F. Austin University game.
SUU is coming off their third consecutive 20-win season. This puts the Thunderbirds with the likes of the University of California Los Angeles and the University of Southern California, which have two prestigious basketball programs.
Scoring 83 points per game, Southern Utah’s nationally ranked No. 6 offense has been the vocal point this season. Leading the way for head coach Todd Simon’s offense is senior guard Tevian Jones with nearly 18 points per game. Following him is fifth-year senior Maizen Fausett, who scores 12.5 points per game and hauls in 6.6 rebounds. Fausett earned his way into the prestigious 1500-point club, becoming just the third player to do so in SUU history. Rounding out the starting seniors is guard Harrison Butler. Averaging 11.1 points, a team-high 6.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists, he has been the do-it-all guy for SUU.
A new addition to the team this year was sophomore guard Drake Allen, who has played phenomenal basketball after transferring from Snow College. Allen averages 11.2 points, a team-high 3.5 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game. He is second on the team in three-point percentage at 41%, right behind senior guard Dee Barnes who leads the team with 41.9% from beyond the arc.
Locking down the paint is sophomore center Jason Spurgin. He has amassed an average of nearly 10 points and 1.6 blocks, and he is third on the team in rebounds with five per game. Spurin ranks second in the WAC for total blocks with 49, beaten by Defensive Player of the Year candidate and Utah Valley University player Aziz Bandaogo’s 89 blocks.
The Utah Tech University Trailblazers have a 13-18 overall record and a 5-13 record in WAC play. Utah Tech plays some of the best defense in the conference and has shown that against SUU. In their first matchup, the Trailblazers held the Thunderbirds to 30 points in the first half. Southern Utah was able to get revenge when Utah Tech traveled to the America First Event Center on Friday, Feb. 17.
Head coach Jon Judkins’ offense is headed by graduate guard Cameron Gooden, who averages 16.1 points per game and makes 40.7% of his three-point attempts. He also averages a team-high 3.4 assists and is one of four players that force one or more steals per game. Junior guard Isaiah Pope is next in line with 13.2 points, 4.1 rebounds and a team-high 1.2 steals per game.
Dominating the post for the Trailblazers is sophomore center Tanner Christensen. He has given SUU problems this season and is a marksman from beyond the arc. Hauling in a team-high 7.1 rebounds, Christensen also eliminates nearly one shot and scores ten points per game.
Stephen F. Austin
Utah Tech will have to go through the Stephen F. Austin University Lumberjacks, who are one of the best teams that did not earn a first round bye. The Lumberjacks were able to defeat the Trailblazers in their one game this year 85-72. SFA plays a gritty full-court press defense, which is a patent of head coach Kyle Keller’s teams. They boast a 19-12 overall record and are 11-7 in WAC play.
That type of defense leads to even better offense, which is why the Lumberjacks score nearly 76 points per game. Their defense forces 8.8 steals per game and nearly three blocks. This has helped SFA hold their opponents to only 69.6 points per game.
Sophomore forward Sadaidriene Hall leads the Lumberjacks in scoring and rebounding. Hall has amassed 13.1 points, hauls in a team-high 6.7 rebounds and dished out nearly two assists per game. He is second on the team with 1.3 steals per game and is one of five Lumberjacks who average more than one steal per game. A.J. Cajuste facilitates the offense with his team-high 4.4 assists per game. The junior guard leads the team with 1.5 steals per game, which ranks him fifth in the WAC for total steals.
Southern Utah will head down to Las Vegas for their first game of the WAC Tournament on Thursday, Mar. 9, at 8 p.m. PST. The tournament will be held at the Michelob ULTRA Arena on March 7 and the Orleans Arena on March 9-11.
Story by: Chevy Blackburn
Photos courtesy of SUU Athletics