Northern Colorado (3-6) at Southern Utah (3-7)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, December 29, 9:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Centrum Arena (5,300) -- Cedar City, Utah. Television: None. Home Record: UNC 2-1, SUU 3-1. Away Record: UNC 1-5, SUU 0-4. Neutral Record: UNC 0-0, SUU 0-2. Conference Record: UNC 1-0, SUU 1-0. Series Record: Northern Colorado leads, 1-0.
GAME NOTES: The Northern Colorado Bears look to hand the Southern Utah Thunderbirds their inaugural loss in Big Sky Conference action when they visit Centrum Arena on Saturday.
The Bears notched their second victory in a row after a 1-6 start on Dec. 21 by defeating North Dakota, 75-66, in their Big Sky opener. Northern Colorado's record is not a great indication of its talent as its non-conference slate featured tough foes in Wyoming, Colorado State, Northern Iowa, and Wichita State. Coach B.J. Hill's team has shown the ability to light up the scoreboard and is averaging 72.2 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting from the field entering Saturday, but it is given up a greater 72.4 ppg to its opposition.
Southern Utah suffered a 72-47 loss to Denver on the road its last time out to fall to 3-7 on the season. The Thunderbirds are also 1-0 in Big Sky play due to their 79-67 decision over North Dakota in Mid-December. Coach Nick Robinson's first season at the helm of the program has only featured one victory over a Division I foe and double-digit margins in six of its seven losses. Southern Utah is netting a subpar 64.3 ppg with a .432 field goal percentage. The Thunderbirds need to improve on the other end of the floor where opponents have torched them to the tune of 75 ppg with a deadly 40.4 percent success rate from beyond the arc.
This will be just the first time these schools square off as conference rivals in history. Northern Colorado completed a 73-51 rout of SUU in the only previous meeting in 2009.
Northern Colorado displayed its offensive potency by converting 51 percent of its field goal attempts including 8-of-16 from 3-point range to down North Dakota. Derrick Barden and Tevin Svihovec combined for 39 points to lead the charge. Tate Unruh added 13 points and 10 rebounds and Paul Garnica hit a few clutch shots on his way to 14 points. Svihovec is pacing the team with 12.1 points per game and Unruh is contributing 10.1 per contest. Barden is going to be the key for the Bears as he not only scores 10.8 ppg, he is also their top rebounder with 7.1 boards per outing.
Jackson Stevenett led the Thunderbirds with 12 points in their loss to the Pioneers on Dec. 21 as the team made only 40.8 percent of its field goal attempts to Denver's much more efficient 55.3 percent conversion rate from the floor. Jayson Cheesman added 10 points and six rebounds. Wade Collie scored nine points, all from 3-point range. Stevenett is the go-to-guy for SUU with team-best numbers of 14.1 points and six rebounds per contest. Damon Heuir, who missed the bout with Denver due to a sprained knee, is questionable to return on Saturday.
Heuir's presence will make a big difference as the senior guard is producing 13.9 ppg and adds a legitimate 3-point threat to SUU's lineup. The Thunderbirds will need every extra ounce of offensive firepower they can find as the incoming Bears will try to turn the bout into a shootout to pick up the road victory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Northern Colorado 70, Southern Utah 63
12/29 10:31:51 ET