The countdown is on for the Southern Oregon women's basketball team.

The countdown is on for the Southern Oregon women's basketball team.

The 23rd-ranked Raiders (25-6) are set to face 11th-ranked Black Hills State (24-7) Wednesday night at 9:15 p.m. (7:15 p.m. Pacific) in the opening round of the NAIA Division II National Championship in Sioux City, Iowa. The winner moves on to play the Aquinas-Kansas Wesleyan winner Friday night.

This year marks the second straight appearance at nationals for the Raiders and seventh overall. The Raiders have been eliminated in the first round in each of their past three trips to the 32-team tournament, including last year's ugly 77-56 loss to St. Ambrose.

"I think it's a different feel this year," SOU head coach Lynn Kennedy said. "Last year, if we were shooting well we could win games, but I think this year we have found different ways to win throughout the year. A lot of (the differences) are on the defensive end — we've changed that philosophy."

Kennedy said that the Raiders, seeded sixth in their quarter of the bracket, are looking for more than experience this time around.

"I think it's almost like a business trip for us," he said. "We know we're here to play games and we're focused on that first game."

Black Hills State, seeded third, is led by guards Katelynn Lamb (13.8 points per game) and Brittany Fuhrman (11.8 ppg), and employ a tough defense that holds opponents to 60 points per game. The Yellow Jackets also do it with balance — nine players on the roster have played in all 31 games.

"Defense will be key for us," Kennedy said. "We've been preaching defense since last year's tournament, and we know that this is another level and we have to step up to that level to be competitive."

Fuhrman ranks 10th in the nation in 3-point percentage at 45 percent (86 of 191), a stat that reflects her team's style of play.

"They're a midrange jump-shot team," Kennedy said. "They like to go down low and get kick-outs for the shot. They really rely on their two guards to shoot the ball really well and pretty much everybody contributes, so they get a lot of help in those little things as far as defensive intensity and offensive boards."

SOU is led by junior forward Jacki Speer, senior guard Rhiannon Dickison and junior guard Whitney Scott, each of whom played a key role on last season's national qualifier.

Speer has put up monster numbers all year long. She's is averaging 16.9 points and 11.4 rebounds and has racked up 22 double-doubles. Speer needs 12 rebounds to break the school's single season record of 363 and ranks sixth all-time in scoring (1,216 points).

SOU and Black Hills State do have some tournament history. In the 1997 tournament, Black Hills State edged the Raiders 80-79 in the national semifinals. The Yellow Jackets also eliminated another Cascade Conference team, Eastern Oregon, from last season's tourney.

All SOU games will be broadcast in the Rogue Valley on AM-580 and links to live webcasts are available at souraiders.com.