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SOU, Dakota Wesleyan square off in clash of styles at NAIA tourney

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Tempo, tempo, tempo.

It’s something that Southern Oregon University head coach Alex Carlson preaches to his players as much as any aspect of the game. And it’s something that he most certainly has been reminding the Raiders about going into today’s second-round matchup at the NAIA Division II National Championship.

The stats may say that Dakota Wesleyan and Southern Oregon, the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds in the Naismith Bracket, average nearly the same amount of points per game. But the way the two teams, which both ranked in the top 10 nationally, go about it are completely different.

Come tipoff at 11:45 a.m. PST, which team controls the advantage of tempo could very well spell which reaches the quarterfinals.

“It’s just kind of an interesting part of this tournament that you face different styles,” Carlson said. “(Dakota Wesleyan) is going to look to slow it down and pound the ball and it’s a different style of basketball that we’re going to see.

“If there’s a team that’s going to be good enough to beat us, we’ll live with it. But we want to be in attack mode.”

As much as Wednesday night’s opener against the University of Antelope Valley was a clash between like styles, today’s second-round matchup will be anything but that.

SOU (28-4 overall) is up-tempo as up-tempo gets. The Raiders want to run, they want to push the pace and they want to constantly put pressure on their opponent with their speed and athleticism.

And while Dakota Wesleyan (28-6) averages 80 points a game this season, the Tigers are a more deliberate half-court team that takes advantage of its talented post play, led by the Bray sisters, Ashley and Amber.

“If we allow them to get set up with their size, it’s going to be a struggle,” Carlson said. “They have a real interesting thing in that their two leading scorers are twins. They have the same scoring average, the same stats. It’s uncanny that way.”

If there is a team that Southern Oregon can compare Dakota Wesleyan to it would be the team the Raiders have seen the most this season: Cascade Collegiate Conference regular-season and tournament champion Eastern Oregon.

“They like to move the ball, they usually have four or five players on the court at any given point that can shoot it from 3,” Carlson said of Dakota Wesleyan. “I feel like we’ve gotten a good test with what we’ve seen from Eastern Oregon this year.

“One thing we’ve seen at this tournament is our style of up-tempo is something these Midwest teams haven’t seen much of. We feel like with our quickness, it will be a difficult matchup for them.”

With the challenges that Dakota Wesleyan may present, Carlson is happy with how his team is entering the game after its opening-round win over Antelope Valley.

The Raiders, led by the hot hand of senior guard Remi Mejia and her game-high 28 points, played in front for most of the second half after playing a back-and-forth game for the first 2½ quarters.

“Great win,” Carlson said. “We were pleased with (the win) and we competed hard. Facing some adversity was good for us. We were down four or six at one point in the second half and we didn’t panic. That will definitely help us as this tournament goes on.”

Even if the Raiders didn’t leave the Tyson Events Center until after midnight, getting the first win at nationals out of the way and continuing their season was enjoyable.

“The big thing we talked about (after Wednesday’s game) is that it’s all about winning here,” Carlson said. “You go through the season talking about how you want to build and get better as the year goes on, but here, as long as you’re ahead by one at the end of the day, then it’s a good day.”

Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.