Raiders aim for playoff breakthrough

Six games into the Cascade Collegiate Conference men's basketball season the Raiders had their sights set on bigger and better things than the No. 6 seed in the league's eight-team tournament.

At the time, Southern Oregon, at 5-1 in conference games and 12-5 overall, appeared to be a contender for conference supremacy, a shocking development considering that the Raiders finished below .500 the previous season and came in seventh in the league's preseason coaches' poll.

But SOU fell back to earth down the stretch, losing seven of its last 12 conference games to stumble into the playoffs, begging the question: which Raiders team will show up tonight in Portland when Southern Oregon (17-11) faces 15th-ranked Warner Pacific (22-7) in the CCC quarterfinals, the one that confounded the league through the first three weeks or the one that stumbled through the final six?

"Part of it was the schedule," SOU head coach Brian McDermott said, "our schedule was a little more loaded at the back end. And part of it was we weren't quite as consistent as we would have liked to have been — and you get that with a younger group. There were nights that we were really, really good and nights when we weren't."

Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m., with the winner facing an opponent to be determined in Saturday's semifinal round. The other quarterfinal matchups are: College of Idaho (5-13) at top-seeded Oregon Tech (15-3), Concordia (6-12) at No. 2-seeded Northwest (15-3) and Corban (10-8) at No. 4 seed Eastern Oregon (11-7).

Warner Pacific has already seen SOU at or near its best, and at or near its worst. The Raiders shot 50 percent from the field and outrebounded Warner Pacific 41-35 in an 81-69 home win on Dec. 30. In the rematch Jan. 27, the Knights outrebounded SOU 42-33 and held the Raiders to 38 percent shooting en route to a 65-61 victory at Warner Pac's Bart Valentine Court.

After the Raiders' impressive offensive performance in the first meeting the Knights changed up their defense for the second. The move worked wonders.

"No. 1, we didn't play very well, but they did have a little change to their zone," McDermott said of the loss to Warner Pacific. "They played 40 minutes of zone and made a couple adjustments, and that had an impact. And, we were just kind of a little bit impatient and didn't quite get the shots that we would normally hope to get against a zone."

Specifically, SOU attempted 29 3-pointers in the loss, making 10, and Terriel Thomas and Eric Thompson, who combined for 35 points and 17 rebounds in the first game, were held to 11 points and nine rebounds.

The Raiders were not the first team to struggle against the Knights' defense. Warner Pacific ranks second in the conference in opponents shooting percentage (.429) and third in scoring margin (plus 7.6 points). They aren't bad on offense either, leading the conference and nation in assists per game (18), steals per game (11.4) and turnover margin (plus-5.5) and ranking third nationally in assist-to-turnover ration (1.38-to-1).

"(Tonight's winner) is going to be in the high 60s, low 70s," McDermott predicted.

The Raiders will be gunning for their first Cascade Conference tournament victory since they won the tournament in 2005. They've gone 0-4 in league tourney games since that title-clinching victory over College of Idaho (then known as Albertson), but McDermott counts tonight's game as SOU's best chance yet at breaking through and ending the drought.

"We still haven't been able to do it consistently, but our guys feel good about the matchup," he said. "They would have preferred to play at home, of course, but preparing for (Warner Pacific) I think our guys have a pretty good feel for what it's going to take and I think they feel like it's a pretty good matchup for us."

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