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North, South boys meet

Southern Oregon Conference boys basketball coaches picked South Medford to win its fourth conference title in five years in 2000.

Prior to last week, the Panthers were playing anything like a conference champion, according to coach Dennis Murphy.

But things have changed dramatically. South Medford turned up its defensive intensity, churned into its transition game at full speed and rolled to three straight wins last week to capture the title in the Abby's Holiday Classic at North Medford High.

With the three tournament wins, South has improved its season record to 5-4 going into its Southern Oregon Conference opener tonight against North Medford (3-6) in the Black Tornado gym.

I was hoping we might have a chance to get to this point before the league season started, says Murphy. But I was having my doubts until last week.

Eagle Point senior guard Nick Rouhier is back to revive the Eagles, who have a 2-8 record at the outset of conference play. Rouhier, who aggravated a broken collarbone suffered in football, will be in the Eagles' starting lineup tonight against Grants Pass in the Eagle Point gym.

He played sparingly in four tournament games for the Eagles last week in Clackamas.

I'm feeling good, but we wanted to wait for the conference season to let it heal as much as possible, says Rouhier. But now, it's time for me to get out there and play.

With the Eagles' offense grounded without Rouhier's shooting and scoring abilities, his return comes at the ideal time, according to Eagle Point coach Keith Williams.

You know we're going to get him the ball with chances to score, says Williams. We need his experience and leadership on the floor, too.

Rouhier has high goals for himself.

I'd like to lead the league in scoring, he says. But that's not my top goal. I'd rather win.

A year ago, first-year North Medford coach Gene Quilhaugh took his Black Tornado into the South Medford gym for its SOC opener against the Panthers. South Medford, the three-time conference champion, was expected to blow away the Tornado on that night.

But it didn't happen. Quilhaugh and his swarming Black Tornado banished South, 58-45, and began its run to the Southern Oregon Conference championship.

North, which lost four starters from that team, lacks size, offensive punch and a winning record entering SOC play. The Black Tornado is shooting under 40 percent from the field, and below 60 percent from the free-throw line, which is a concern to Quilhaugh.

Yes, were getting good shots, and no, we're not knocking them down, says Quilhaugh. It's still early, and hopefully when the league season starts, we will know what our limitations are.

Junior point guard Mike Olson has been North Medford's most consistent player. Senior guard Wes Town, who is averaging 10.6 points and five rebounds a game, has shown flashes of promise. But Towne has been inconsistent for much of the season, Quilhaugh says.

Olson is averaging just over 11 points and four assists a game for the Black Tornado.

Tate Mellbye, a 6-1 senior forward, is averaging eight points and seven rebounds a game.