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Inside look at high school and Oakland University sports from Oakland Press sports writer Dave Pemberton.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Oakland-Southern Utah preview

The opponent — Southern Utah (1-4) enters Tuesday night’s game on a four-game losing streak, including a 75-65 home loss to Seattle Pacific (a Division II school of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference).

The Thunderbirds have 10 new players on their roster this season and are without 2008 all-Summit League first team selection and Newcomer of the Year Geoff Payne, who was denied an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA in the offseason.

Junior guard Davis Baker leads the team in scoring at 16.8 points per game, with senior center John Clifford averaging 12.2 points and 7.4 rebounds per game and senior forward Tyler Quinney contributing 10.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.

The Thunderbirds played likely their best game of the season on Saturday, a 62-59 loss at Boise State. “I saw a lot of character from the Southern Utah basketball team," Southern Utah coach Roger Reid told KSUU after the game. "I'm proud of the way we played basketball and how they recovered after that last game. It's too bad we didn't get this win."

Key matchup — Oakland’s Will Hudson and Keith Benson vs. Southern Utah’s John Clifford (6-10, 210) and Tyler Quinney (6-7, 210). If the Thunderbirds are going to win this game they are going to have to win the inside battle.

The Grizzlies have not been able to get a quality performance out of both Hudson and Benson in the same game. If one has a solid game, the other has struggled, which is likely only a coincidence, but still a problem.

Oakland coach Greg Kampe’s patience with Benson has been short at time. Benson played just one minute in the second half against Southeast Missouri State Saturday after a solid 15-point, six-rebound game against Delaware State. Saturday’s game was the second time Benson was benched in the second half this season, he also played just one minute in the first at Iowa on Nov. 23.

Hudson has started four straight games with Oakland senior Dan Waterstradt struggling early in the season. But Waterstradt had his two best games of the season in the Las Vegas Invitational.

Quinney is one of two returning starters for Southern Utah (senior guard Dave Marek is the other). Clifford is in his first season as a starter for the Thunderbirds. Both had good games at Boise State. Clifford had 11 points and 13 rebounds and Quinney added 16 points and five rebounds.

Matchup history — The Thunderbirds hold a 12-9 edge in the all-time series and swept the Grizzlies last season. Oakland is 3-7 all-time in Cedar City (6-4 at home, 0-1 neutral site). The Grizzlies last win at Southern Utah was a 78-75 win back on Feb. 23, 2006.

Payne was a huge thorn in Oakland’s side last season. He had 32 points and 11 rebounds in the Thunderbirds 83-72 win at the O’Rena on Dec. 8, 2008, and 19 points and 13 rebounds in the Thunderbirds home victory on Feb. 28. Baker had 15 points and six rebounds in the Dec. win, while Quinney had 16 points, four rebounds and four assists in the Feb. victory.

Oakland senior guard Erik Kangas had 27 points (six 3-pointers) in the first game and 16 points (four 3-pointers) in the second game. Oakland junior point guard Johnathon Jones had 23 points at Southern Utah last season.

The skinny — Oakland for all intents and purposes should win this game, and need to win it with the game at UMKC (3-4) Thursday looking more difficult by the day. The Grizzlies are younger than expected with Derick Nelson out, but still have more experience than the Thunderbirds. Being on the road since Nov. 20 has to be grueling for the team, but like Kangas said after the win over Southeast Missouri State, “It’s not time to make excuses now. It’s time to win.”

If Drew Maynard, Blake Cushingberry and even Matt Samuels can build on their success in the Las Vegas Invitational, the Grizzlies will be a dangerous team and even more dangerous when Nelson returns.

Oakland has had trouble defending teams with good 3-point shooters, but the Thunderbirds are just 17-for-61 (27.9 percent) on their 3-point attempts this season. Kangas’ (19 3-pointers this season) has made more 3-pointers than all the Thunderbirds combined.

Southern Utah will be eager to pick up a win after the close loss at Boise State on Saturday, but may not have the talent or experience to beat Oakland just yet.

Thunderbirds head coach Roger Reid had some interesting thoughts in the Spectrum on the matchup with Oakland: "(The match up is) not good," said Reid before breaking out in a smile. "I could go down (a list) player for player and it's not good. They have a lot better talent than we do. But talent alone doesn't win games. I could be the guy who puts spin on it, and say we expect to win these games, but if you ask me, how do we match up against them, we don't."

For additional information on tonight's game see my preview in The Oakland Press here



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