ASHLAND — Southern Oregon head coach Lynn Kennedy had a heart-to-heart talk with his team earlier in the week. The primary subject: defensive effort.
Kennedy got what he wanted Friday night, and the result was the kind of runaway victory the Raiders have been looking for.
RECAP: Alexi Smith scores 20 points and the SOU bench plays a big role, making up for an off day for the Raiders' Melissa Sweat, the conference's leading scorer.
UP NEXT: Today, Northwest at Southern Oregon, 5:30 p.m.
Alexi Smith scored 20 points on 10 of 15 shooting, Allison Gida had 14 points, six rebounds and four assists and Southern Oregon's bench outscored Evergreen's 26-9 in a 74-62 Cascade Collegiate Conference victory at Bob Riehm Arena.
"We needed to get back to playing hard and that's what we talked about all week," Kennedy said. "We've watched a lot of tape of the last three games and we weren't getting that effort that we needed, so that was our main goal tonight. And you can see what happens when we play good defense and we rebound — we can run against anybody."
The Raiders (14-5, 4-4 Cascade) had lost four of their previous five games while surrendering 87 points per contest. But they clamped down against the Geoducks (4-8, 3-5), who hit just 25 of 63 shots (40 percent) against an aggressive Raider defense that effectively turned steals into transition layups.
The Geoducks, led by post Danielle Swain's 18 points, managed to hang with the Raiders in the early going, but SOU's full-court pressure eventually rattled the visitors, who committed 23 turnovers.
A layup by Gida followed by a steal and coast-to-coast score by Angelica Cahee sparked an 8-0 run that gave the Raiders the lead for good late in the first half, 32-24.
"We set the tempo in the beginning of the game, let them know that we're not going to back down," said Smith, who scored 12 points on 6 of 8 shooting in the second half.
The Geoducks fought back to within four points at intermission and three early in the second half, but the Raiders' defense ignited another rally. Compounding Evergreen's problems was Swain's foul trouble. She picked up her fourth on a reach in with 17:07 to go and SOU leading 35-30. With the 6-foot junior on the bench, SOU outscored Evergreen 15-2, seizing a 50-32 lead on Melissa Sweat's 3-pointer with 13:02 to go.
"They're a good team and they were hitting shots in the first half," Kennedy said, "but we knew that wall would come for them in the second half because they don't have the numbers we do. We were subbing in four at a time and they were going maybe one."
The Raiders upped their lead to as many as 23 points on Cahee's fastbreak layup off a long pass by Gida with 6:22 left and coasted from there. Evergreen's 10-2 game-ending run made the final score more respectable.
Cahee, a 5-foot-6 senior guard, and freshman forward Carly Meister led an SOU bench that provided a big spark. Cahee finished with nine points, three assists and four steals and Meister had 10 points and six boards.
Southern Oregon outrebounded Evergreen 42-33.
Swain didn't get a lot of help from her Evergreen teammates. Jessica Denmon had 13 points and eight rebounds and Sammi Clark 12 points and two steals, but no other Geoduck scored more than six points.
SOU survived an off shooting night by Sweat, who was held to eight points, 12 below her league-leading average.
"We talk about that all the time, that we have so many weapons that if someone's not shooting very well or not getting into a flow we have people who can pick it up," Kennedy said. "Tonight, I thought (Smith) did a great job. "… We started running our four-out, one-in offense with her and she started dominating the paint. I like how we have people who can step up at any time."
Now, the question for the Raiders is whether or not they can put forth a similar effort tonight against Northwest (2-13, 1-7), a team which suffered through an 87-39 shellacking at Oregon Tech on Friday.
Smith hopes so.
"We're going to try to take a step forward," she said. "Today, we needed to push ourselves to get back to how we were playing in the preseason. I think we're making a good run so far so hopefully (tonight) we'll come out and do the same things and from here on out we'll just keep progressing and getting better."