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SUU basketball looks to rebound from tough loss to Gonzaga

SUU basketball looks to rebound from tough loss to Gonzaga

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CEDAR CITY — The Southern Utah men's basketball team will look to bounce back from a tough loss at No. 19 Gonzaga last week, as it heads into the World Vision Classic in Reno, Nev. over the weekend.

SUU (0-1) will face Wisconsin-Green Bay Friday, Cal State-Fullerton Saturday and tournament host Nevada Sunday in the three-day tournament.

The Thunderbirds are coming off a vicious whipping at Gonzaga, in which SUU committed 28 turnovers.

"Gonzaga is a great basketball team with a solid defense," T-Bird Head Coach Nick Robinson said. "Their pressure gave us a little bit of problems. Also, I think it was a little bit of nerves on the part of our guys, as well as a lack of execution."

The T-Birds also struggled with their defense, which Robinson said has been a focal point in practice heading into Reno.

"We didn't execute well in terms of our transition defense," Robinson said. "The effort and execution has to be better from our standpoint. We've improved in both of those areas over the past two days."

A bright spot, however, was the play of forward Jackson Stevenett, who led all scorers with 29 points on 11-of-15 shooting.

"The crowd and the atmosphere was just besides anything I've played in probably," he said. "I loved every minute of it. That may have fueled a little bit of it, I don't know. Instead of getting nervous or scared, I think I enjoyed it more than anything."

SUU will now look to build on the positives in Friday's loss, in addition to correcting the turnover woes that plagued the T-Birds throughout the game.

The T-Birds will have three games in three days, which Robinson likened to the Big Sky Conference tournament at the end of the season.

"It's a similar format to the Big Sky tournament at the tail end of the year, so we get to experience what it's going to be like," he said. "In terms of other positives, because you're playing that many games, a lot of guys are getting the opportunity to play and improve."

Robinson said it was also a plus to go against teams with totally different offensive philosophies.

"You get three different opponents with three different styles, so you get to find out from a learning perspective what it is that we need to work on and also where our strengths are," he said. "We're excited for the chance to play."

Green Bay is 1-0, coming off a 72-67 victory over Chicago State to begin the season on Saturday. The Phoenix were led by Keifer Sykes, who picked up 31 points and seven boards for Green Bay in the game.

SUU Center Jayson Cheesman
SUU Center Jayson Cheesman

CSF lost 81-68 at Stanford in its season debut, with head coach Andy Newman out serving a two-game suspension for secondary NCAA violations. Newman's first game back at helm for the Titans will be Saturday against the T-Birds.

In CSF's loss, D.J. Seeley and Sammy Yeager each dropped 16 points on the Cardinal, and Yeager added nine rebounds.

SUU center Jayson Cheesman, who led the T-Birds with five blocks in addition to 6 points at Gonzaga, said the Titans will run an offense comparable to CSF.

"They're a run and gun type of team, so we're going to really have to focus on our transition defense," he said. "Obviously that was the issue with Gonzaga. I even feel like (CSF) runs the ball faster up the court than Gonzaga. We really need to focus on getting back on defense with them."

SUU then concludes its trip to Reno with a matchup with tournament host Nevada, which like CSF and SUU, enters the weekend with an 0-1 record. The Wolf Pack fell to UC-Irvine 78-64 on Saturday; UCI in turn nearly upset No. 13 UCLA, falling 80-79 Tuesday in overtime.

Nevada is coming off successful campaign last season, in which the Wolf Pack went as far as the NIT Quarterfinals, before losing to Stanford.

The Wolf Pack were led by guard Malik Story in their loss to UCI. He scored 21 points and added five rebounds for Nevada.

Stevenett said the Wolf Pack will provide the T-Birds another tough road environment, but said after playing Gonzaga last week, it's going to be hard for SUU to play in an arena louder than it experienced in Spokane, Wash.

"I think it helped us going to Gonzaga — probably one of the best teams we've played all year and probably the best environment we will play in this year," he said. "It really prepares us for things to come and conference when that time comes."

SUU will start out the World Vision Classic against Green Bay. Tipoff against the Phoenix is slated for 8:30 p.m. Pacific in Reno, Nev.

"We have a test ahead of us, but I think they're three winnable games," Cheesman said.

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Carter Williams


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