Raiders brace for No. 12 Gonzaga

It was near the end of Wednesday's practice at McNeal Pavilion when Southern Oregon men's basketball coach Brian McDermott turned his focus to a few individual matchups concerning the Raiders' next opponent.

"This is," started McDermott, facing the basket and doing his best Kelly Olynk impersonation, "their other 7-footer."

Their other 7-footer? Yes, the opponent has two of those. It also has two players on the John R. Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 list, not to mention 12 straight appearances in the NCAA Tournament, including four Sweet 16s.

Southern Oregon will face No. 12-ranked NCAA powerhouse Gonzaga on Friday night at McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane, Wash. If you can't be there, don't worry — the game will be broadcast live by Fox Sports Northwest.

"The experience of playing on a big-time court with a big-time program, that's something the kids are going to remember for a long time no matter how it turns out," McDermott said. "If you don't play hard in that game, you don't have a pulse."

The Bulldogs return four starters from last year's 23-7 team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The two Wooden Top 50 players are senior guard Steven Gray, the only senior on the team, and sophomore forward Elias Harris.

Gonzaga, which competes in the West Coast Conference, has nine players 6-foot-5 or taller, including the 6-foot-11 Olynk, who's listed as a forward, and 7-foot junior center Robert Sacre.

The Raiders have six players 6-5 or taller, but nobody taller than 6-8 junior forward Scott Tiefenthaler and 6-8 senior post Austin Wolfer.

Of course, as McDermott points out, such comparisons in regard to this type of matchup are pointless. The Raiders will basically be playing for the paycheck — "about $8,000," says McDermott — and the experience. Beyond that, the Raiders will try have fun and avoid letting their imaginations run wild prior to the 6 p.m. tip-off.

"I don't think we have any illusions about anything," McDermott said. "We are trying to see how we can adapt to different things just to see how our guys handle different game plans. And then how you can shoot with different pressures.

"There are some things to be gained out of it so long as you don't go in with skewed expectations and let it bother you mentally. We're not even talking about winning. We're just talking about trying to get better, and we're seeing if we can't make them do some things that make them feel a little bit uncomfortable."

The Raiders, picked to finish last in the Cascade Conference preseason poll, are coming off a 74-51 exhibition loss to Humboldt State. In that game, SOU was led by junior forward Sam Osofsky and senior forward Kellen Hawley. Osofsky made three 3-pointers on his way to 12 points and Hawley added 11 points and nine rebounds.

The Raiders finished 12-15 last season, including 4-14 in the CCC, but McDermott shrugged off the preseason ranking and believes that this year's team has real potential. Those high hopes are based on the return of two key forward who missed most of last season with injuries, and the expected uprising of another player, junior forward Jordan Highland, who saw only limited action last season.

"We're not as athletic or as fast as we've been the last few years, but it might be the best shooting team we've ever had here," McDermott said. "We've got a number of guys who can shoot it."

McDermott has also been impressed with the team's basketball IQ, which he hopes will help the team overcome its physical shortcomings.

"I like the group," he said. "I think we're going to be able to do a lot more things because we are a little smarter, we can shoot it and we're really balanced. And we think we have the best freshman in the league — (freshman guard) Kyle Tedder. He's gotta learn how to guard, but he'll be the best offensive freshman in the league this year."

It may be hard to judge the Raiders based on Friday's performance, but SOU should get a clearer picture of what to expect when it opens up its home schedule Sunday against CSU-Maritime.

First, though, the Raiders have another team to worry about.

So how do they feel about facing one of the best men's basketball programs in the nation? McDermott says he could tell how excited they were during a recent scrimmage.

SOU was supposed to be ironing out the kinks Tuesday, but it clearly was distracted.

"It's not a great time for a scrimmage," he said, "when you have Gonzaga next."

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