ASHLAND — The rivalry between the Southern Oregon and College of Idaho men's basketball teams has been simmering for a few years now. Expect it to reach a boiling point Friday in a game with major Cascade Conference title implications at Bob Riehm Arena.
The ninth-ranked Raiders (17-4 overall, 6-3 CCC) will try to force a first-place tie when the 14th-ranked Coyotes (16-5, 7-2) come to town for a 7:30 p.m. clash. SOU will remain home Saturday to face Eastern Oregon (12-7, 3-6), also beginning at 7:30.
Fans are encouraged to wear red to both games, which will be preceded by 5:30 p.m. women's matchups. Those unable to attend can follow live stats or watch the pay-per-view streams at the SOU Athletics Portal.
The Raiders wrapped up the first half of conference play last Saturday with an 83-71 win against Oregon Tech. Sitting in a three-way tie for second place, they'll get the chance to right some wrongs in the second half starting with the Coyotes, who defeated the Raiders 95-83 on Dec. 21 in Caldwell, Idaho.
"This is the time of year to have to get to where you're consistent," Raiders coach Brian McDermott said. "Heading in the direction of the postseason, you can't back up. This is the time to get better, not take steps back."
In SOU and C of I's four meetings prior to December's, the Raiders won in overtime, they lost by missing a potential game-winning 3 at the buzzer, they won by overcoming a 22-point deficit and they lost by four. When the Coyotes ended SOU's 11-game win streak in the latest edition, they took control with a 15-3 run at the end of the first half and never allowed it to get much more interesting.
"The first go-around with them, we just weren't playing at the same level," McDermott said. "We were a step slow all night defensively, and we'll have to execute our gameplan defensively quite a bit better this time because they can score in a lot of ways. They get out in transition, they can shoot it, they put it on the floor and they score inside, so they're a tough guard for anyone."
In CCC play, the top two scoring and shooting teams have been the Coyotes (88.6 points, 47.2 percent) and the Raiders (82.4 points, 50.9 percent). SOU is the best at shooting the 3 (39.5 percent) and C of I is the best at defending it (28.4 percent).
With plenty of points to go around, the Coyotes are led by Demetrius Perkins (18.4 points, 2.9 steals), Taylor Pruett (17.0 points, 8.7 rebounds), Sydney Donaldson (13.1 points) and Josh Wilson (11.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.9 assists). They could also see the return of forward Antonio Garrett, who was averaging 18.1 points and 9.9 rebounds before going down with an injury seven games into the season.
The Raiders have won four of their last five contests against Eastern Oregon, including an 83-60 win in La Grande on Dec. 20. The Mountaineers stopped a four-game conference losing streak last Saturday against Corban, 74-65, as Tony Eackles scored 17 points. Eackles, a senior guard, is averaging 16 points and 6.1 rebounds in conference play and Trevor Phillips is throwing in 11.9 points.
In the first matchup this season, Eackles went 0-for-10 from the floor and EOU went 3-for-25 from outside. As a result, the Raiders had their largest margin of victory on Eastern's home floor in 37 years.
"They're a little up and down, but they have some pieces and when they all get it going on the same night they can be as good as anyone in the league," McDermott said. "They still pound it inside and shoot the 3, so you have to be able to guard both."
Eric Thompson enters the weekend second in the CCC at 22.1 points per game and seventh at 8.5 rebounds. David Sturner averages 13.5 points and 8.6 rebounds, Jeff Bush averages 9.2 points, 6.1 assists and five boards, and Kyle Tedder is posting 11.3 points in conference play.
Two more Cascade Collegiate Conference women's basketball heavyweights, College of Idaho and 14th-ranked Eastern Oregon, will make stops at Bob Riehm Arena this weekend.
Southern Oregon University (16-5 overall, 5-4 CCC) gets the second-place Coyotes (9-8, 6-3) on Friday and the first-place Mountaineers (17-4, 9-0) on Saturday, with both tipoffs scheduled for 5:30 p.m.
A month has passed since the Raiders lost on the road to both, but this will be more than just a measure of how far they've come since. With half of the conference schedule already gone and SOU lodged in fifth place (but just a game out of a second-place tie), making up ground in terms of playoff position will require some big wins.
"Seeing all the teams in our league now firsthand, we know we could have had a couple more wins with some finishes that were a little different," SOU coach Lynn Kennedy said. "We know we have to step up our play on defense and our execution on offense. We need to compete at that next level to get one of those top four spots."
SOU — fresh off last Saturday's 83-71 loss to Oregon Tech — will have to execute with two of the best. The Coyotes and Mountaineers are first and second in the CCC at taking care of the ball, turning it over just 13.6 and 14.4 times per game, respectively. The Raiders still lead the league in scoring (87 points per game) and field-goal percentage (47.1) but are marred by 19.2 turnovers per game - the highest total in the CCC.
Being without their point guard, Ashley Claussen, hasn't helped. Allison Gida numbers (17.3 rebounds, 9.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.9 steals) keep getting better, however, and she notched her third straight double-double against OIT with 28 points and 12 boards. Her backcourt mate, Kristen Schoenherr, is one of the league's most efficient offensive players with 14.7 points on 54.5-percent shooting and 3.6 assists.