ASHLAND — The Southern Oregon University women's basketball team can clinch a share of its second regular-season Cascade Conference title in a row this weekend. A road trip that has historically been unkind to the Raiders is all that's in their way.
SOU (22-2, 15-1 CCC), ranked fifth and a little over a week removed from its first loss since early November, plays Friday at No. 17 Eastern Oregon (21-4, 14-2) and Saturday at College of Idaho (10-12, 10-6). The Raiders — who are one game up on EOU and No. 22 Oregon Tech in the standings with four to play — haven't swept the trip since the 2008-09 season, but can take comfort in the fact that EOU and OIT will beat each other up Saturday night. If SOU wins twice and EOU tops OIT, the Raiders would have a two-game lead, at least a share of the title, and need to win of their two remaining home games to lock up an automatic bid to the national tournament.
"I still like where we're at," second-year head coach Alex Carlson said. "Everyone is starting to get healthy again, which is exciting, and I think everyone has identified their roles by now. If we can just play to our abilities and not try to do too much, we have a chance to end the season well and fulfill our expectations."
NAIA Div. II Top 25: For the fourth poll in a row, unbeaten St. Francis (Ill.) garnered eight first-place votes and had the No. 1 spot in Tuesday's latest edition of the NAIA Div. II coaches' poll. Concordia (Neb.) got the other four first-place votes at No. 2, while No. 3 Saint Xavier (Ill.) and No. 4 Marian (Ind.) moved ahead of SOU, which fell two positions. The final rankings of the regular season will be released Feb. 21, but at-large bids to the national tournament will be awarded based on the March 1 poll that will come out following conference tourneys across the country.
Last Week in Review: SOU's school-record win streak ended in last Tuesday's 72-69 loss at Oregon Tech, where the Raiders led by as many as 16 points in the second quarter. Baylee Toney put OIT on the comeback trail, shooting 8-for-9 with 19 points in the second half off the bench, and Demi Sahlinger's 3-point attempt to tie the game was short at the buzzer. The Raiders had no such issues in Friday's 102-52 win at last-place Walla Walla, as Sydney Mullings led five players in double figures with a career-high 27 points on 13-of-16 shooting. SOU shot 58 percent from the field to hit the 100-point mark for the fourth time in four weeks.
- Demi Sahlinger moved into seventh place on SOU's career assists list last week by bringing her total to 344. She currently leads the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.8-to-1. That mark is also the best in the CCC in at least a decade; during that time, only one other player has posted a ratio better than 3-to-1.
- Sydney Mullings has established new career-highs in points three times since Jan. 20 and averaged 18.5 points on 65-percent shooting in SOU's last six games.
- Autumn Durand ranks second in CCC scoring (16.7 points), fifth in rebounds (7.1) and third in field-goal percentage (57.6). She's scored in double figures in every conference outing and in 30 of her last 31 games dating back to last season.
- Since the start of January, the Raiders are shooting 47 percent from the field in 10 games. Before that, they were shooting 41 percent.
- SOU is still No. 2 in the nation in average turnover margin (plus-10.2).
RAIDERS HIT ROAD: At Ashland, plenty is left to be decided in the final two weeks of the Cascade Conference regular-season schedule, and the Southern Oregon men's basketball team will be right in the middle of all the haggling for postseason positioning.
The Raiders (17-9, 11-5 CCC) are tied in fourth place with 25th-ranked College of Idaho (18-8, 11-5) and one game behind No. 16 Eastern Oregon (19-6, 12-4) entering the home stretch. They'll visit the Mountaineers on Friday attempting to complete a season sweep, and they'll be at C of I on Saturday trying to salvage a regular-season split with the Yotes.
Regardless of the outcomes, there'll be consequential work left to do. Northwest Christian, currently ranked sixth and one game ahead of Oregon Tech in first place, comes to Ashland on Feb. 18, and seventh-place Corban is in town for the finale the following day. The Raiders have already clinched a CCC tournament berth, but a top-four finish would give them a first-round home game for the fifth year in a row.
Last Week in Review: Tristen Holmes scored a career-high 32 points last Tuesday at Oregon Tech, but 26 of those were scored in the second half with the Raiders already in too deep a hole on their way to a 99-85 loss. The Owls, now ranked 15th, were nearly flawless in the first half as they shot 22-of-41 from the field with seven 3-pointers and just one turnover. SOU bounced back with a 90-73 win Friday at Walla Walla behind Ben DeSaulnier's 23 points, a Holmes double-double (18 points, 10 rebounds), and Jordan Hunt's 19 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks. The Raiders outscored WWU 40-18 over the final 13 minutes.
- Along with his big game at Walla Walla, Jordan Hunt scored a career-high 21 points at Oregon Tech. In four games since sustaining an injury against EOU, he's averaged 13.8 points on 59-percent shooting (20-of-34). He had to sit out SOU's first meeting with C of I.
- Tristen Holmes has been racking up most of his big numbers lately after halftime: In the second halves of SOU's last nine games, he's shot 62 percent (44-of-71) with averages of 14.2 points and 3.1 assists. In conference play he ranks ninth in scoring (15.2), fourth in assists (14.1), 10th in field-goal percentage (53.6) and 19th in rebounding (5.3).
- Since going 2-for-11 combined in SOU's first matchups against EOU and C of I, Ben DeSaulnier has posted 21.7 points per game and shot 53 percent in six outings. He owns the fourth-highest scoring average (18.2) in CCC play.
- The Raiders remain reliant on 3-point shooting: In their CCC wins, they've averaged 10.5 makes on 42-percent accuracy; and in their CCC losses, they've averaged 6.2 makes on 32-percent accuracy.