ASHLAND — Southern Oregon would love to host a first-round Cascade Conference playoff game, and can improve its chances of securing a top-four finish by beating Oregon Tech on Saturday night.
But, that's hardly the only motivation that will be driving the Raiders at Bob Riehm Arena. SOU also has a chance to make history at its rival's expense. A win would give the Raiders three victories in a single season over the Owls for the first time since the 1998-99 season as well as a regular season sweep over the Owls for the first time since 1971.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
"That would be kind of a sweet thing," SOU head coach Brian McDermott said.
McDermott can also make some history of his own. In his 17th year as head coach, McDermott's in position to tie Ted Schopf atop the program's all-time wins list with victory No. 240.
The Raiders (17-8, 8-5 Cascade) are tied with College of Idaho for fourth place in the 10-team Cascade Conference standings, one game behind 20th-ranked Northwest (9-6, 9-4) for third and 11/2 games behind second-place and 14th-ranked Warner Pacific (18-6, 9-3). The top eight teams in the final CCC standings will compete in the league's postseason tournament, with the top four hosting first-round games on Feb. 20.
Counting Saturday's game, SOU has five games remaining on its regular season schedule. All are crucial.
"I know it's a big game for us in terms of trying to hunt for a first-round home-court game in the playoffs," McDermott said. "That's something that we'd really like to have and this is a big game for that. We have to play well in our remaining five league games."
Though SOU has cooled off of late, having lost four of its last six games, McDermott has seen signs that suggest the Raiders are about to turn a corner.
"I think we're coming along," he said. "We're playing a little bit better right now offensively. We're much more unselfish over the last three, four games (than) what we have been. That's a really good sign. We still have some inconsistencies defensively that hopefully we'll continue to get better at and we've been working at. If we can get just a little bit better there I think the next few weeks will go pretty well for us."
Fresh off a 90-80 road win over New Hope Christian and two games removed from a 97-82 shellacking of Warner Pacific, the Raiders have proven to be a dynamic offensive team and porous defensive one. They're scoring a league-best 80.4 points per game but are allowing 75.5, which ranks ninth in the conference. At least part of can be attributed to SOU's turnover woes — the Raiders have a minus-2.36 turnover margin, which also ranks ninth in the conference.
On the bright side, SOU's bench has received a shot in the arm in recent weeks with the emergence of Jordan West. The 6-foot-8 freshman post had 10 key points and three rebounds against Warner Pacific, and hit 8 of 9 shots in a 17-point effort Tuesday against New Hope Christian.
"We're getting some good contributions from some people that had not been playing a lot for us in the first half of the season," McDermott said. "They're playing pretty well for us right now, so I think we're doing what we want to do.
"We want to be better, get better every night. We want to be better at the end of the season when it comes time for tournament time and I think that's happening. So hopefully Saturday night will be one of those nights that'll be a lot of fun."
One of the keys against Oregon Tech, McDermott added, will be the Raiders' ability to keep their composure. The high-intensity rivalry always delivers a high-stakes atmosphere, not to mention boisterous fans and, more often than not, dramatic swings of momentum. The team that keeps its cool under those circumstances will probably have a leg up.
"As is usually the case in this game, you have to be able to control your emotions," McDermott said, "and try to get to an even keel and play within yourself, and that's one of the harder things to do in this game."