Southern Oregon's roller-coaster regular season is winding down, which means the pressure is about to be cranked up.
The home stretch for the SOU men begins tonight in Klamath Falls, where the 15th-ranked Raiders will be looking for their sixth win in a row over rival Oregon Tech. The game is a big one for both teams. Second-place Southern Oregon (21-6, 10-5) is 2 1/2 games behind first-place College of Idaho and one game ahead of third-place Concordia in the Cascade Conference standings with three games left on its league schedule. If the Raiders finish second, they'll have home-court advantage through at least the semifinals of the conference tournament, and if they win their last three regular-season games they'll all but clinch an at-large berth to the NAIA Division II men's basketball tournament.
Seventh-place Oregon Tech (15-12, 8-7) is one game behind Warner Pacific, which it will face in its regular-season finale.
The Raiders have had their way with the Owls lately, rolling in the two meetings this year by a combined 30 points. SOU forward David Sturner had 19 points and 10 boards in the first matchup, and his frontcourt mate Eric Thompson tallied a team-high 20 points and five boards in the rematch three weeks ago.
In addition to the Owls, the Raiders will have to deal with the always boisterous crowd at Danny Miles Court.
"The hardest part about playing over there is that the atmosphere can sometimes take you away from who you are," SOU coach Brian McDermott said. "Offensively, we need to be who we are. When we play like the team that leads the country in assists, we're very difficult to guard."
Oregon Tech is led by big man Kyle Waits, a North Medford alum who averages 13 points and 7.5 rebounds. Guard Brandon Bautista averages 12.2 points and 4.9 assists, and Duncan Schramm 11.4 points.
The Owls love to shoot from outside and rank second in the country in 3-point attempts.
"That team's not even close to being the same one we played in November; they're much better," McDermott said. "They look comfortable, and they know what they want to do and who they are. It's going to be really important for us to take away their easy baskets and contest as many 3-point looks as possible."
The Southern Oregon women also have a lot to play for today. The Raiders (21-6, 10-5) and 23rd-ranked Owls (22-5, 10-5) are tied for second place in the CCC standings, 11/2 games behind first-place and 20th-ranked Eastern Oregon with three games to play.
Oregon Tech won the first meeting, in Ashland on Jan. 18, 83-71, with Karly LeVeque (22 points) and former North Medford standout Karissa Dixon (19) leading the way.
SOU's Allison Gida had 28 points, 12 rebounds and four assists that night, but only one other Raider added more than 10 as SOU was held to 41 percent shooting (20-for-49) and missed 16 free throws. The Raiders also played without point guard Ashley Claussen.
"They came out ready to play and we didn't respond very fast, so we need to start better," SOU coach Lynn Kennedy said of the loss to the Owls. "We realize what a big piece (Claussen) is as far as setting tempo and getting us into offense, and hopefully she can help us execute better at the end of the game."
Southern Oregon has won five of six games since falling to the Owls. After dealing with injuries all season the Raiders have used the same starting lineup in four straight games for the first time in conference play. They won all four, with an average margin of victory of 17 points.
"That's had a big impact on us being able to make some strides recently," Kennedy said. "We won seven of eight down the stretch last year, too, so we have some players who know how to finish strong. It'll be exciting to see how it plays out."