S. Oregon women brace for key home stand

One month ago the Southern Oregon University women's basketball team, then ranked No. 9 in the country, appeared to be well on its way to a banner season, maybe one for the record books.

Now, thanks to injuries and slumps, the Raiders are on the outside of the Cascade Conference title chase looking in. The good news for the Raiders is there's still time — the second half of the league schedule begins Friday — and this weekend's two-game home stand against the CCC's top two teams, College of Idaho and Eastern Oregon, represents perhaps their best shot at sneaking back into title contention.

"I think anything can happen this year," SOU head coach Lynn Kennedy said.

If anything for the Raiders (15-5, 4-5 CCC) is going to happen, Friday night would be an ideal time to start. College of Idaho (11-5, 7-2) is tied with 20th-ranked Eastern Oregon (13-6, 7-2) atop the league standings with nine games to go and is coming off a shocking 66-65 home loss to last-place Northwest Christian.

The Coyotes are a well balanced team, but are best known for pushing the tempo and daring opponents to do the same by implementing a full-court press defense from the opening tip. It's a style that can play into the Raiders' hands when they're healthy, but this season SOU has had to play without Cascade Conference all-star Whitney Scott. The former Cascade Conference all-star tore a knee ligament prior to her senior season and will have to wait until next season to close out what has been a brilliant SOU run.

"We've got to control the tempo and shut down Nicole (Gal) and Nicole (Bruce)," Kennedy said.

Gal is College of Idaho's answer to SOU's Jacki Speer. She ranks third in the conference in points per game (17.4) and fifth in rebounds (6.2). Speer, one of the top power forwards in the nation, leads the league in both points (20.3) and rebounds (13.8).

Eastern Oregon will bring an entirely different game plan into Saturday's game. The Mountaineers, led by Tana Stickney, do everything they can to slow the game down, and rely heavily upon a defense that ranks No. 1 in the league in opponent field goal percentage (.419). Stickney leads the Mounties in both points (10.5) and rebounds (6.1).

"They're a power team," Kennedy said of Eastern, which beat SOU 61-57 in the first meeting between the two teams. "They like to establish the inside. It's more about ball control, more about who has got the better possessions. They'll sag down in the post and double and triple-team (Speer), so we've got to attack the basket and hit outside shots."

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