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A quandary for South: How long do starters play'

Prep Notebook

Put yourself in Dennis Murphy's shoes. Your basketball team, ranked No. — in the state, soars to a 25-point lead in the second quarter. You rest your starters and the opponent crawls to within 20 by halftime.

In the early part of the third quarter, the lead quickly swells to 35. For all practical purposes, the game is over. The reserves return.

Are the starters done for the night?

The answer is no, but it's an issue that Murphy struggles with every game. He doesn't want to stir up bad blood. He doesn't want to rub opponents' faces in the mud.

But he's also preparing his squad for a run at a Class 4A state championship ' something that's eluded him in his 18 years with the Panthers (He won a 2A state title at St. Mary's).

— It's a delicate thing, says Murphy, whose team is 11-1 overall and 3-0 in the Southern Oregon Conference heading into tonight's home game against Eagle Point. I don't know how other teams view what we're trying to do, but I think the starters need to play a certain amount of minutes.

They need to remain sharp, and I feel like they've earned those minutes by all the hard work they've put in.

And, truth be told, most of the 2,000 fans who crammed into the South gym last Friday were there to watch players like junior forward Kyle Singler and sophomore point guard Michael Harthun, who are destined to play college basketball at the highest level.

Singler's two-handed dunk off a long lob pass from Harthun in the Panthers' 81-46 win over Grants Pass was by itself worth the price of admission.

Murphy will keep playing his starters roughly 20 of the 32 minutes ' or 2&

189; quarters ' and let the scores fall where they may during blowout games.

How long to run the big horses ' that's a problem every coach in the SOC would love to have.

SOUTH MEDFORD'S rise to No. — in the state polls came after the Panthers' impressive performance at the Les Schwab Invitational in Hillsboro last month. The Panthers lost to eventual champion Reserve Christian in the quarterfinal round but handily defeated Metro League heavyweights Beaverton, Hillsboro and Westview.

The Panthers have been ranked No. — before, but never this early.

I think we earned some respect up north, he says. In previous years, we've risen to No. — by default.

Speaking of rankings, South Medford is rated 18th nationally by MaxPreps.com, which hails itself as America's source for high school sports.

MaxPreps' rankings are computer-based and take into consideration schedule strength, but frankly, they're skewed. For example, the poll has Reserve Christian 84th and Lake Oswego, which lost twice at the Les Schwab tourney, 63rd.

Still, it's a tribute to the Panthers.

THE PANTHERS' greatest challenge prior to the state playoffs could come Saturday at 7 p.m. when they square off against third-ranked Jefferson on the Democrats' home court.

We're going to be in a hostile environment, and I think the kids are looking forward to it, says Murphy, whose team will hit the road Saturday morning following a Friday night game at Ashland.

Murphy jumped at the chance to play Jefferson after Democrats coach Marshall Haskins offered an invitation last June. The game is part of the Martin Luther King Tournament.

Murphy had hoped to schedule a home-and-home series with Lake Oswego and its marquee player, 6-foot-10 Kevin Love. The Panthers would host the Lakers this season, then travel to Lake Oswego in 2007 when Singler and Love are seniors.

But Lake Oswego had already made plans for two out-of-state tournaments and didn't have any room left on its schedule, Murphy says.

CRATER HIGH track standout Isaac Stoutenburgh ran the mile in a career-best 4 minutes, 15.9 seconds at an indoor meet at the University of Washington on Saturday.

Stoutenburgh, who gave a verbal commitment to Oregon in November, finished fifth in his heat and 12th overall in a field of 30. He was the lone high school entrant in a field of college and elite runners.

Stoutenburgh's time was the equivalent of a 3:58 1,500. He didn't break four minutes at that distance last year until April.

It's a good time, especially since his heat went out a little slow, said Crater distance coach Justin Loftus, noting that Stoutenburgh hit the half-mile mark in 2:11.

Stoutenburgh will next compete in a 5-kilometer invitational event Feb. 11 at the UW. He'll take a crack at the high school national indoor record of 14:29. Stoutenburgh's best time in the 5K is 14:38.