Preview: T-Bird basketball week


CEDAR CITY–Coming off their first Big Sky Conference victory of the 2017-18 campaign, the Thunderbird men’s basketball team is at home for two more contests this week against Idaho and Eastern Washington.

Last Time Out

Jadon Cohee said it best following SUU’s victory against Northern Arizona, saying that they got the monkey off their backs by snapping a five game losing streak en route to an 81-75 victory over the Lumberjacks.

With five Thunderbirds scoring in double figures, SUU was able to pick up their first victory since December 16 when they knocked off Central Michigan inside the America First Event Center.

Despite fouling out in 29 minutes of play, Dwayne Morgan continued to let his presence be known by scoring 14 points, pulling in nine rebounds and blocking three shots during the course of the contest.

Better And Better

Brandon Better was a late addition to the Thunderbird roster from Moberly Area Community College, but has been a major factor for the Thunderbirds all season long.

In his first regular season game in a Thunderbird uniform, Better dropped 18 points on Oregon State. The following week, he hung 15 on San Jose State in a big T-Bird home win.

Better reached his career high in SUU’s home victory against Long Beach State, where he put 26 points on the board. He nearly got to that number once again against Weber State, where he had 25 points.

In total, Better is averaging 13.5 points per game for the Thunderbirds, and has scored a total of 202 during the year.

Opponent Preview: Idaho Vandals (11-6, 3-2 Big Sky)

Coming off a victory over Eastern Washington, the Preseason Big Sky Conference favorite Idaho Vandals will be looking to their 11-game win total.

The Vandals are led by one of the premier players in the Big Sky Conference in Victor Sanders. Sanders is averaging 19.5 ppg this season, and leads the team in total points scored by just about a margin of 100. Sanders is third in the Big Sky in terms of scoring. Sanders also leads the team in steals this season with 18, and is second on the team in assists with 43.

Brayon Blake is the only other Vandal that averages double-digits, with a mark of 13.8 ppg. Blake also leads the Big Sky in rebounding with an average of 9.5 per contest.

Idaho head coach Don Verlin has been the leader of the program since March 2008. The team also made an appearance in the 2007 Postseason Tournament, where they picked up a win over Stephen F. Austin.

Opponent Preview: Eastern Washington Eagles: (8-10, 3-2 Big Sky)

Winning five of their last seven contests, the Eagles of Eastern Washington will take on Northern Arizona before making their way to Cedar City to take on the Thunderbirds.

Bogdan Bliznyuk out of Ukraine has proved himself as the leader for the Eagles this season, averaging 18.2 ppg and leading the team in rebounding with an average of 6.3 rpg and a total of 113. The 6-6 senior also leads the team in assists with 65.

Eastern Washington had a very strong 2016-17 season, finishing the season with a 22-12 overall record, a mark of 13-5 in the Big Sky Conference, and made an appearance in the College Basketball Invitational where they played a close contest with Wyoming.

Shantay Legans is in his first season as the head coach of Eastern Washington, but is in his ninth year with the program. Legans was named head coach on March 29, 2017.

Big Sky At A Glance

Through six games of Big Sky play, Montana sits at the top of the league with a perfect 6-0 record. The Grizzlies are 13-5 overall, boasting a 7-0 record at home and are riding a six game winning streak.

Montana State is second in the league with a 4-2 Big Sky mark, with four teams following them with a 3-2 conference record.

Northern Arizona remains the only team in the conference still seeking a conference victory.

Weber State’s Jerrick Harding leads the Big Sky in scoring with an average of 21.5 ppg. Deontae North is right behind him with an average of 20.8 ppg.

Words From Coach Simon

On what his biggest takeaways were from the victory over NAU…

“We showed a much better effort defensively,” SUU head coach Todd Simon said. “They were playing as a unit. Guys are starting to get a feel for each other in terms of camaraderie and we did a good job executing offensively, moving the ball and ended up with five guys in double figures.”

On what he’s seen from Idaho…

“They’re one of the premier teams in the entire Big Sky, as voted on in preseason obviously,” he said. “They’ve been together forever, they have good players at every position and have some depth. They can beat you in a variety of ways, and that’s what makes them a great team. They’re good on both ends of the floor and we’re going to be ready to play a very clean game.”

On what challenges Eastern Washington will provide…

“Eastern Washington is an explosive team, they have a great player in Bliznyuk and you have to get on their shooters,” he said. “They’re a team that can fill it up in a hurry, and they’re a tough matchup.”

On the state of the Big Sky Conference…

“Every game is a battle from top to bottom,” he said. “Everybody can beat anybody on any given night, and you’re going to have to be prepared. There’s teams that are very talented and well coached in this league, as was shown in the non-conference schedule. There’s certainly a lot of parody, but not in a negative way, parody in the sense that there’s a lot of good teams.”


Thursday night’s game against Eastern Washington will be Dollar Day, where Thunderbird fans can get into the contest for just $1. Thursday’s contest against Idaho will tip off at 6:30 p.m. MT, with Saturday’s game scheduled to begin at 12:30 p.m. MT.

Single game tickets for the 2017-18 SUU men’s basketball campaign can be purchased at or at the America First Event Center Ticket Office.



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