Speer heads Raiders' win

As far as growing pains go, the results could be worse for the Southern Oregon University women's basketball team.

In fact, they almost were on Tuesday night. But SOU eked out a 69-68 win against a winless Simpson team thanks to yet another All-American-caliber performance by forward Jackie Speer.

The 18th-ranked Raiders (7-0) bullied Simpson inside, getting the free throw line for 41 attempts compared to only six for the Red Hawks. The last attempts came with 3.9 seconds left, when Lindsey Scheffler rattled in her second free throw after missing the first to give SOU the lead.

Simpson (0-10) had the ball and a chance to take the final shot after a pair of Speer free throws tied the game with 23 seconds left, but took an ill-advised 3-point shot off the dribble that went out of bounds and gave the ball back to the Raiders with 6.8 seconds on the clock.

What followed was an ill-advised Simpson foul about 90 feet from the basket that sent Scheffler to the line and set up her game-winning free throw.

"It wasn't very pretty, but we worked together well at the end of the game and executed, and that's why we won," Speer said. "We definitely have a lot to work out, but we won, and the important thing is we're learning how to win."

It was another quiet game for Speer, the reigning Cascade Conference MVP — which is only to say that she posted 24 points and 16 rebounds, her sixth double-double in seven games, and moved into third on SOU's all-time career scoring list.

Speer also posted three key shot blocks and three steals, and even though she only made five shots from the field, she connected on 14 of 17 attempts at the free throw line.

The senior is averaging 24.7 points and 14.7 rebounds this season, but doing it while the Raiders have no real threat from the outside, which has allowed opponents to sag, double-team and triple-team the 6-foot-2 post.

SOU is down two all-conference guards from last year, including Whitney Scott, who has been forced to use a medical redshirt after tearing her ACL before the season. That has left freshman Gabe Johnson to play point guard, while two other freshmen guards are also seeing significant time off the bench.

As a result, most of the load has been carried by Speer, even in coach Lynn Kennedy's guard-oriented offense, which is centered around a defensive press designed to create a fast-paced tempo.

Positioned at the end of the press, though, is Speer, who as a result is racking up rebounds seemingly just by showing up. Last weekend she tallied a career-high 28 boards in a win against Holy Names, and is now only 42 away from setting SOU's career rebounding record.

"We tried to get a tempo going early in the game, but they did a pretty good job with their press break," Kennedy said, "so we had to switch it up a little and go with a three-quarters court press to slow it down a little, and that resulted in a low-scoring game.

"We're doing a pretty good job adjusting to a couple different styles, and we'll have to continue to do that if we're going to be successful."

The fifth-year coach said he has been trying to get Speer the ball more in the high post to avoid double teams, and that she'll be freed up more when the Raiders are able to get more penetration from the outside.

"Her mission is a team mission," Kennedy said. "Her goal is to win every game, whatever it takes, and that's been her drive since she got here."

The guard play has suffered though, as the Raiders were averaging over 25 turnovers per game coming into Tuesday. They committed another 18 against Simpson, 12 of which came in the second half.

Junior forward Krystal Smith was the only other SOU player in double figures, scoring 14 points on 6-for-6 shooting and pulling down six boards. Carly Wood came off the bench to chip in nine points, but no other Raider made more than one field goal.

SOU shot just 36 percent for the game, making only four three-pointers, and Simpson actually made 11 more field goals.

"I thought we got through some of that (growing pains) stuff last weekend," Kennedy said, referring to a couple three-point road wins against Montana State-Northern and Great Falls of Montana. "But these little road bumps are going to happen with a young team, especially this time of year.

"We have a ton of talent and athleticism at the guard spots though. It's just a matter of time and getting some games behind us."

Josh McDermott is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Contact him at mcdermott.josh@ymail.com.

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