ASHLAND — The stakes have never been higher in one of the state's longest-running rivalries than they will be when the 18th-ranked Southern Oregon men's basketball team visits No. 4 Eastern Oregon in a Cascade Collegiate Conference Tournament semifinal contest.
The game is at 7 p.m. Saturday in La Grande.
Southern Oregon improved to 23-9 overall this season with a 100-88 quarterfinal win over Concordia on Wednesday, moving the Raiders one step closer to their first NAIA Tournament berth since 2006.
The win, SOU's first postseason victory since 2005, gave the Raiders 23 in a season for only the sixth time in program history. A win over Eastern would tie the program record of 24, accomplished during the 1941-42 and 1946-47 seasons.
Saturday's matchup will serve as a rubber match for the season after the teams split two conference games. Southern Oregon handed then-No. 2 Eastern Oregon its first loss, 72-68, in Ashland on Dec. 14 before a top-ranked Mountaineer squad defeated SOU, 75-61, last month in La Grande.
"I think the teams are fairly evenly matched," SOU head coach Brian McDermott said. "They finished tied for the conference championship for a reason, and they were ranked No. 1 because they've got a really good team. They've got a number of good players; they've got a good system; they're very well-coached and they can get up and down the floor and shoot the ball."
The Mountaineers lost two of their final three regular-season games to drop out of the top seed in the conference tournament. In Wednesday's home quarterfinal, the second-seeded Mountaineers needed a last-second 3-pointer by J.D. Esters to hold off seventh seed Oregon Tech, 77-75.
Southern Oregon and Eastern Oregon have met 176 times since the series began in 1930-31, the third-most times SOU has faced a single opponent (behind only Oregon Tech and Western Oregon). The Raiders own a 94-82 all-time record, although the Mountaineers have claimed 13 of the past 16 meetings.
The Raider offense led the conference in scoring (77.2 points per game), shooting percentage (.481), 3-point percentage (.407) and assists (17.3). Meanwhile, SOU boasted one of the top defenses, ranking first in 3-point percentage defense (.283) and second in shooting percentage defense (.394) and rebounding (38.6).
Kyle Tedder, Eric Thompson and David Sturner have been the Raiders' top scoring trio all season, with all three averaging double-figures.
Tedder tied his career high against Concordia with 33 points. Point guard Jeff Bush has joined the scoring party late in the season, reaching double digits in each of the past three games while connecting on 9 of 11 shots from beyond the 3-point line during that stretch.
"The biggest key is us playing the way that we've been playing offensively, where we're sharing the ball and moving the ball better and our shot selection is better," McDermott said. "It's been like that for the last six or seven games, and if we can maintain that then I think Eastern will probably see a little bit different Southern team than what they've seen the first two teams."
Southern Oregon shot a season-best 60.7 percent in Wednesday's win, and the offense has been on fire during a current seven-game win streak, shooting 55.1 percent, including 44.7 percent on 3-pointers.
The defense has dominated as well, limiting opponents to 38.8 percent shooting.
Eastern led the conference in scoring defense (64.1 points per game), scoring margin (plus 10.3), rebounding (42.2) and rebounding margin (plus 10.1).
"With us it's all about ball movement and player movement," McDermott said. "If we can get that going, then we feel good about our chances of going into La Grande and stealing one."
SOU AT EASTERN — As the lone road team to claim a victory in the Cascade Collegiate Conference quarterfinal round, the Southern Oregon women's basketball team earned a spot in the semis tonight against third-ranked regular-season conference champion Eastern Oregon at 7.
Southern Oregon improved to 22-9 with the 71-64 upset of fourth-seeded Warner Pacific in Portland on Tuesday.
Eastern Oregon presents an even greater challenge, however, as the Mountaineers come into the weekend with a 23-game winning streak and the first undefeated season in CCC history.
"They're probably one of the hottest teams in the NAIA," SOU head coach Lynn Kennedy said. "They've won a ton of games in a row and they're playing extremely well right now. They're just a well-rounded team, well-coached."
The Raiders will look to hand the Mountaineers their first loss since last season and avenge a pair of regular-season losses in the process. Eastern defeated the Raiders 82-60 in Ashland on Dec. 14 and 89-71 in La Grande on Jan. 19.
Southern Oregon's challenge will be to push the tempo and break through the tough EOU defense. The Raiders led the conference in scoring (78.1 points per game) and ranked second in shooting percentage (.442) while grabbing a league-best 45.2 rebounds per game.
Strong performances from SOU's top players will be key to the upset effort, with Melissa Sweat ranking second in the conference in scoring (18.6) and Alexi Smith fourth (16.2).
Sweat has 593 points, seven away from becoming only the fourth player in SOU history to tally 600, while a 30-point game from Smith would push her over 500 points this season.
The winner tonight advances to the title game against College of Idaho or Oregon Tech.
"It should be a good competitive game," Kennedy said. We've got to step up our intensity and play at another level to compete against them."
SOU TOURNAMENT — The Southern Oregon softball team finishes out its nonconference schedule this weekend in Medford hosting the annual SOU Tournament today and Saturday at U.S. Cellular Community Park.
Southern Oregon (3-5) will host the six-team tournament with a total of 15 games. Fellow Cascade Collegiate Conference schools Oregon Tech and Concordia are in it, along with nonconference schools British Columbia, Holy Names and Simpson.
Today, Southern Oregon plays British Columbia at 3 p.m. and Simpson at 5:30 p.m. The other teams play at the same times.
Saturday's games are at 10:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.