SOU answers the call
ASHLAND — No lead was big enough. Coach Lynn Kennedy knew that when his Southern Oregon University women's basketball team took several double-digit leads on Cascade Collegiate Conference-leading Eastern Oregon Saturday night.
But what Kennedy had in his corner was another general on the court, and she delivered time and time again.
Senior point guard Chelsey Muri dished out six assists and scored 13 of her 17 points in the second half to help the Raiders to their ninth straight win by downing the Mountaineers 76-69 at McNeal Pavilion.
Southern Oregon (21-3, 12-2 CCC), which dropped an 80-78 overtime decision to EOU in the first meeting, is now tied with the Mountaineers (18-3, 12-2) for the conference lead. The CCC regular-season winner receives an automatic berth into the national tournament.
"This was big," said Kennedy, in his third year with the Raiders. "They are a tough team, that's for sure. They play a different type of game. It's more halfcourt because they have good size, which is something we don't see a lot of. We knew we'd have to grind this one out."
That they did, as the Raiders' one-time 15-point lead in the second half was whittled down to 68-63 with 1:40 to play.
SOU, however, made 10 of 12 free throws in the final two minutes and connected on 21-for-27 from the charity stripe in the second half.
Muri was 7-for-8 from the line in the second half and 9-for-10 for the game.
"That's our senior leader," said Kennedy. "We rely on her to make plays and free throws at the end of games. She sure did that tonight."
Muri, who was also in on three of SOU's nine steals, constantly penetrated into the paint to set up easy looks for her teammates.
"I don't mind having the ball in my hands," said Muri with a smile. "But I do what the coach says. It was his plan to drive and kick."
Sophomore guard Whitney Scott added 13 points, sophomore forward Ashley Baker scored 12 points and had seven rebounds and junior guard Rhiannon Dickison tallied 10 points for SOU.
Southern Oregon, which boasts the conference's top offense, shot 23 of 53 from the field, including 6 of 18 from 3-point range, and forced 19 turnovers.
The Raiders were seemingly in control with a 57-42 advantage at the 8:57 mark of the second half. But EOU, the top defensive team in the CCC, slowly chipped away at its deficit and finally got within single digits on a pair of free throws from 6-foot forward Sheena Henderson.
Muri sank a pair of foul shots to push SOU back up by 10 (62-52), but a 3-pointer from Tiffanie Ulmer and a later free-throw make by Laura Olsen got the Mountaineers to within 64-58.
EOU crept within 74-69 with 21 seconds to play but Dickison nailed two free throws and a late miss on a layin attempt by Jenny Fiso sealed the Raider win.
"We expected a run," said Muri. "I felt we handled it well until the end, where we didn't do so great. The last two minutes we have to do a better job of keeping our poise."
In the first meeting between the teams, SOU played from behind nearly the entire night.
On Saturday, the Raiders led the entire second half and were in front for 12 of the 20 minutes in the opening half.
"It was the first conference game that first time we played them," said Muri. "We're still pretty young, and I know you can't always use that as an excuse, but it's true.
"We've played a lot more together since that first meeting. I think we've learned some things."
Scott came off the bench to sink three 3-pointers — two coming from at least two feet behind the line — in the first half to push SOU in front.
Eastern Oregon took the lead back behind Henderson, who scored 11 of her 17 points in the opening 20 minutes, but the Raiders would edge back in front for a 36-32 advantage at intermission.
A 21-10 spurt over the first 10 minutes of the second half put SOU in control.
Ulmer finished the game with 24 points and nine rebounds to lead the Mountaineers. Breana Olson, who scored 27 points against SOU in the first matchup, totaled just six points Saturday night.
The Raiders hit the road next weekend with games at Cascade and Warner Pacific.
Only six conference contests remain until the CCC tournament.
"Our focus right now is on next Friday," said Kennedy. "We'll enjoy tonight, then get back to work on Monday. There's still a lot of basketball left."
EASTERN OREGON (18-3, 12-2)
Leavitt 0-1 0-0 0, Olson 3-8 0-0 6, Olsen 3-10 1-2 8, Henderson 7-16 3-4 17, Hawes 2-5 0-0 4, Garro 0-0 0-0 0, Fiso 1-5 3-4 5, Turner 0-0 1-1 1, Ulmer 6-13 11-16 24, Mattson 1-2 2-2 4. Totals: 23-60 21-29 69.
SOUTHERN OREGON (21-3, 12-2)
Muri 4-10 9-10 17, Scott 5-10 0-0 13, Brookins 0-5 2-2 2, Dickison 2-6 5-6 10, Speer 3-7 2-6 8, Smith 1-2 0-0 2, Wood 2-4 2-2 7, Baker 4-7 3-5 12, Cooper 2-2 1-2 5, Scheffler 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 23-53 24-33 76.
Halftime—Southern Oregon 36, Eastern Oregon 32. 3-point goals—Eastern Oregon 2-11 (Olson 0-1, Olsen 1-4, Henderson 0-1, Hawes 0-2, Ulmer 1-3), Southern Oregon 6-18 (Muri 0-2, Scott 3-5, Brookins 0-3, Dickison 1-4, Speer 0-1, Wood 1-2, Baker 1-1). Rebounds—Eastern Oregon 45 (Ulmer 9), Southern Oregon 37 (Baker 7). Assists—Eastern Oregon 7 (Olsen 3), Southern Oregon 8 (Muri 6). Fouled out—Speer. Total fouls—Eastern Oregon 23, Southern Oregon 21. Technical foul—Brookins. A—850.
Reach reporter Kevin Goff at 776-4483, or e-mail email@example.com