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Southern Utah head coach Nick Robinson directs his team against California during the first half on an NCAA college basketball game on Monday, Nov. 18, 2013, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Steve Luhm: Despite SUU’s lost season, Robinson remains hopeful
First Published Feb 22 2014 05:10 pm • Last Updated Feb 22 2014 09:17 pm

Cedar City

Southern Utah’s Nick Robinson is 34, looks 24 and probably feels like 104.

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It happens when your team suffers through a season that puts dog-years on a basketball coach.

Southern Utah has now lost 24 straight after Saturday night’s 85-74 home loss to Eastern Washington.

The Thunderbirds scored an 85-78 win over little Arizona Christian in their opener but, over the next three months, won as often as the Jamaican bobsled team.

"It’s been a challenging season," says Robinson, a former assistant at LSU and Stanford who was hired at Southern Utah after the 2011-12 season.

"At this point, we’re taking it one day at a time. Our focus has been consistently improving as coaches and players. That’s helped our basketball team."

Significantly, Robinson’s boss understands the situation and remains firmly in his corner.

"We knew this was going to be a tough year," SUU athletic director Ken Beazer said. "… But he’s definitely running the kind of program we want. We told him we wanted long-term success. That comes with a core group of players being in the program awhile."

That’s especially true in the Big Sky Conference.

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"We know there’s a pecking order in recruiting," Beazer said, "and the kids we get are going to need time to develop. So he’s stuck to the plan. ... It’s just going to take a little time."

Robinson’s first season was more successful.

Behind the play of holdovers Jackson Stevenett and Damon Heuir, the Thunderbirds finished 11-20 overall, 8-12 in the Big Sky and qualified for the conference tournament.

"We inherited a great group of seniors," Robinson said. "… With their departure, we lost leadership, we lost toughness and we lost two guys who — quite frankly — were pretty good and scored a lot of points."

Another problem?

Two players expected to be starters this season — Kyle Davis and Wade Collie — aren’t around.

Davis, who averaged 8.5 points and 5.3 rebounds as a freshman, returned from an LDS Church mission and transferred to Utah State. Collie was arrested on drug charges a year ago and asked to leave the program.

As a result, Robinson’s second team at SUU is dominated by freshmen and sophomores, including top scorers Trey Kennedy and A.J. Hess.

"One of the biggest things with young guys is consistency," Robinson said. "Juniors and seniors are relatively consistent. ... But we’ve really struggled to have seven or eight guys on the same page on game day."

Like most young teams, the Thunderbirds have improved as the season progressed, even though their record doesn’t reflect it.

Among a handful of recent near-misses: a 65-59 loss at Weber State and a 54-52 heartbreaker to Montana State.

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