Southern Oregon's first-half tour through the Cascade Conference ends with what could later prove to be the most important weekend of the regular season today and Sunday at Mountain Avenue Gym.
The NAIA concurred and made today's 5:30 p.m. game for first place between the fourth-ranked Raiders (15-1 overall, 8-0 CCC) and 17th-ranked Eastern Oregon (15-2, 8-0) the Division II Game of the Week. At 1 p.m. Sunday, SOU will turn around to face the resurgent College of Idaho Coyotes (6-8, 6-2), who come into the weekend tied for second place in the standings.
SOU enters the weekend on a 15-game win streak, while EOU has won 10 straight. The Mountaineers had captured three consecutive CCC regular-season titles until the Raiders ended their reign last year, but they're still the last team to defeat SOU in a conference game (Jan. 16, 2016) and the last team to defeat SOU in a conference home game (Jan. 25, 2014).
NAIA Top 25: The Raiders stayed at No. 4 in the latest coaches' poll released Tuesday by the national office, the same spot they had in the previous poll released Dec. 13. Going back to last Jan. 26, it was the 11th straight poll in which the Raiders have held a top-10 spot; they've been in the top 25 since the start of the 2014-15 season. From this point forward, new rankings will come out every two weeks for the rest of the season.
Top-ranked Saint Francis (Ill.) and No. 8 Southeastern (Fla.) are the only remaining unbeaten teams; No. 2 Concordia (Neb.) and No. 3 Saint Xavier (Ill.) have one loss apiece. At No. 17, Eastern Oregon went up two spots and is the only other CCC team listed, and Oregon Tech is the first team out.
Last Week in Review: SOU moved two games ahead of Oregon Tech with last Thursday's 73-57 win over the Owls, forcing 19 turnovers while committing a season-low of eight. Tiani Bradford scored eight of her 17 points in the fourth quarter to help the Raiders pull away, while Demi Sahlinger had 15 points, six rebounds and five steals in the rematch of last year's CCC tournament championship. In Sunday's 120-44 thumping of Walla Walla, freshman Daranda Hinkey recorded 22 of SOU's 65 bench points and the Raiders broke a school record for 3-point makes by going 17-of-31 from downtown. They also posted the second-best field-goal percentage (61.8) and second-most assists (36) in SOU single-game history.
• The Raiders stand at third in conference shooting percentage (44.4), fourth in 3-point percentage (32.8) and third in opponents' field-goal percentage (37.0), but turnover margin continues to separate them from the pack. In CCC play they've forced nearly twice as many (177) as they've committed (90), and overall they rank fourth in the nation in turnover margin (plus-9.8) and fifth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.4).
• Until last week, Autumn Durand had led the Raiders in scoring in 10 straight games. The senior still leads the league in scoring (17.9) and is second in rebounding (8.8), and on SOU's career lists she's moved up to eighth in scoring (1,342) and ninth on the boards (690). She should soon become the fifth player in program history to register 1,400-plus points and 700-plus rebounds.
• After her 7-of-12 performance against Walla Walla, Majerle Reeves is up to 52 made 3-pointers this season on 44-percent accuracy. At her current pace, she'd break the single-season 3-point record Ashley Claussen set last year (100) in 15 games; SOU has 12 left on its regular-season schedule, plus postseason.
• Boosted by its 65-3 advantage against Walla Walla, the Raider bench has outscored opponents' reserves in seven of eight CCC games and a total of 217-101 in conference play.
• Toria Bradford, the reigning CCC defensive player of the year, leads the CCC in steals at 3.4 per game. All five of SOU's starters are among the top 15 in conference action.
• Heading into the weekend, the Raiders have won 18 straight conference games and 25 straight home conference games.
About Eastern Oregon:
• SOU leads the head-to-head series, 41-40. Last year the Mountaineers dealt the Raiders their only conference loss, 75-69 in La Grande, and SOU delivered payback with an 83-63 win in Ashland.
• Maya Ah You — the 2014-15 CCC freshman of the year, who sat out last season due to injury — leads the team at 12.2 points per game overall. In CCC play, however, Payton Parrish is putting up 14 points and 5.8 rebounds. In EOU's defeat of SOU last year, Parrish scored 22 and went 6-of-11 from downtown.
• EOU's only losses came to Whitman (Wash.), currently the No. 16 team at the NCAA Div. III level, and Montana Western, which started 13-0.
• The Mountaineers lead the CCC in scoring defense (50.8), scoring margin (31.4), shooting percentage (50.2), 3-point percentage (39.2) and offensive-rebound percentage (39.5). They're second in defensive-rebound percentage (76.2).
About College of Idaho:
• After finishing eighth last year and falling at SOU in the CCC quarterfinals, the Yotes have turned around on the back of senior guard Petra Lumpert, who has earned two straight CCC player-of-the-week awards and leads the conference in scoring (19.5) and assists (5.5).
• They've also turned up the pressure, leading the CCC in turnovers forced per game (23.9) and ranking second behind SOU in turnover margin (8.4).
• SOU leads the series 28-26 and has won the last seven meetings by an average of 25.6 points.
• In his third year as women's coach, Mark Owen previously was the head coach of the C of I men's team for 10 years and won three conference tournament titles.