Head coach Lynn Kennedy calls it a "good flow," but opponents probably have another name for the way the Southern Oregon women's basketball team is running and gunning its way to blowout win after blowout win: exhausting, relentless and by the end most games so far, somewhat demoralizing.
Head coach Lynn Kennedy calls it a "good flow," but opponents probably have another name for the way the Southern Oregon women's basketball team is running and gunning its way to blowout win after blowout win: exhausting, relentless and by the end of most games so far, somewhat demoralizing.
Yes, the Raiders love to push the pace and rack up points as their opponents struggle to keep up. Through its first nine games, Southern Oregon (8-1) ranks second in NAIA Division II in points per game (94.7), first in field goal percentage (.519), third in rebounds (50.9) and fourth in assists (20.7). The Raiders have also proven to be a capable defensive team, holding opponents to 30 percent shooting, the best defensive field goal percentage in the nation.
Now the question is, will all those gaudy statistics hold up, and ultimately translate into success for SOU when the Cascade Collegiate Conference regular season begins this weekend? The Raiders will be aiming to provide their answer right out of the gate — they travel north to face Northwest Christian of Eugene on Friday, and defending CCC champion Corban of Salem on Saturday.
"The last couple of years, we've been rebuilding," Kennedy said. "But this year, we went into it knowing that we had the talent and the pieces in place, so it was more about using the preseason to get ready for conference. Now, we start a new season, and you can't win a championship Friday night, and we know that, so we gotta keep going, keep getting better each and every game. That's what we're really focused on in practice, getting better every day."
The Raiders, who were picked to finish sixth in the league's preseason coaches' poll, are led by San Diego State transfer Melissa Sweat, a 5-foot-11 guard who already has picked up more league player-of-the-week awards (two) than Southern Oregon pocketed in the previous two seasons combined. The silky smooth junior, who according to Kennedy was rated the 20th-best guard in the nation as a high school senior, is averaging 19.2 points and four rebounds a game while shooting a lights-out 68 percent from the field and 47 percent from 3-point land.
Joining Sweat in the starting lineup are former Ashland High star Allison Gida, another Division I transfer from Utah, 6-foot senior forward Alexi Smith, freshman guard Ashley Claussen and senior forward Krysten Copeland. It's the same starting lineup that has taken the court in all nine games for the Raiders, a level of continuity they were unable to experience last season thanks to a rash of injuries.
"And the other thing about this year," Kennedy points out, "is that some of our starters from last year are now coming off the bench and are actually producing more than they did last year. Angelica (Cahee), she's been phenomenal, and I think she's been way better this year. And with (Haley Newell) and Angelica coming off the bench, we're much faster now, so you think we're fast to start the game and then we have our second team come in and we're almost faster. It's kind of a luxury to have."
With so many substitutes coming in and out of the game in order to stay fresh for SOU's hectic style, the Raiders tend to spread out their scoring, making it more difficult for defenses to slow them down. Smith is averaging 12.9 points and 5.2 rebounds while shooting 53 percent, Gida averages 12.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists and Cahee, a 5-foot-6 senior, is averaging 10.8 points, 3.3 assists and also is the team's co-leader with 18 steals.
Ten Raiders average at least 10 minutes per game, and nine average at least 14.7 minutes per contest.
"We know our roles," Kennedy said, "so people can just focus on team play and what they can contribute to the team."
SOU will be tested immediately. Following this weekend's games, the Raiders return home for a crucial home stand against 10th-ranked Eastern Oregon (Dec. 14), rated first in the CCC coaches' poll, and 24th-ranked College of Idaho (Dec. 15), rated third. That's fine by Kennedy, who is anxious for the Raiders to show what they can do against a proven league foe.
But first is Northwest Christian (6-3), then a Corban (3-5) team that will try to make it nine wins in a row against Southern Oregon.
"It's a big game," Kennedy said of Saturday's trip to Corban. "(Corban has) had a really good run the last couple years. They've had a little bit of an up and down preseason, but they still have a solid team. We actually match up with them pretty good this year.
"I think we need that level of play for us to be successful — our team likes to be competitive, they like to be challenged. I think we're ready for the challenge of league. We've been talking a lot about it and now it's finally here."