GAME NOTES: UC Riverside looks to build off its first win of the season as the Highlanders head north to take on the Southern Utah Thunderbirds in a non- conference tilt.
UC Riverside secured a 72-67 win over Montana State last Saturday behind a strong effort from Taylor Johns. The victory over the Bobcats gives the team a little distance from back-to-back setbacks to San Diego State (77-41) and Pepperdine (69-66).
The Thunderbirds enter this contest with an identical 1-2 record. Southern Utah opened the 2013-14 campaign with a win over Arizona Christian (85-78), but come into this contest off consecutive lopsided losses at Utah State (90-57) and California (75-47).
UC Riverside has won six of the eight meetings in this series, but it was Southern Utah that won the last meeting, a 76-65 decision in 2009.
Johns missed only three of his 16 attempts from the field and finished with a career-high 31 points, including 19 in the second half against Montana State. Still, the difference in the game turned out to be free throws, as the Highlanders got to the line 34 times and made 25, while Montana State went 8- of-10 from the stripe. Johns' was the offensive star for Riverside, although Steven Thornton did finish in double figures as well with 11 points.
John's is hitting at a robust 65.7 percent from the floor, and has done a little bit of everything for the Highlanders, leading the team in scoring (19.3 ppg) rebounding (6.0 rpg) and blocked shots (2.0 bpg). Chris Harriel and Chris Patton check in with 8.3 and 7.0 points per contest, for UC Riverside, which is laboring to a scoring average of just 59.7 ppg.
Points have been tough to come by for Southern Utah as well, especially in the Thunderbirds' 75-47 setback at California on Monday when they shot 29 percent from the floor. A.J. Hess was the only player to score in double figures, finishing with 14 points in the loss. Trey Kennedy added eight points, but Southern Utah shot a miserable .293 from the floor in the game (17-of-68) and was outscored at the free-throw line, 22-6.
Hess leads the team with a modest 10.3 point per game average. Kennedy is second with 10.0 ppg. Scoring has certainly been a issue for the Thunderbirds this season, as they are shooting a dreadful .354 from the floor overall.
Even though SUU is playing on its home floor, the difference Saturday should be Johns, who will likely continue his terrific sophomore start with another all-around performance.
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