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Writing the Pine

Washington: best player at the national tournament

POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. -

Their shooters were missing. Their defense was reaching. — Their confidence was plummeting. But in the eye of the hurricane stood — Southern Oregon's rock of consistency.

That, of course, was Shea Washington, who hasn't just — been the best player for the Raiders at the NAIA Division II National — Championships, he's been the best player in the tournament. That was the — consensus Friday morning, when Washington scored big bucket after big — bucket to help SOU overcome a seven-point second-half deficit and beat — Newman (Kan.) in the second round.

The supremely athletic 6-foot-7, 220-pound junior forward — has done it all for SOU in the first two rounds, almost single-handedly — catapulting the Raiders into the national quarterfinals. Washington's — two scoring performances - 30 against St. Ambrose and 27 against Newman — - are the top two in the tournament so far, and he's also averaging 10 — rebounds per game. All this despite the fact that he's clearly a marked — man.

Teams that normally play man-to-man defense are zoning — up against the Raiders. The idea: limit Washington. The result: more Washington. — It's not working. Nothing's is, actually. Part of that is SOU's execution — - the Raiders are getting the ball in to the big guy on almost every crucial — possession - but most of it is Washington.

It may turn out that he's simply too big, too strong and — too good for anybody at the NAIA D-II level.

Folks, it's time to start scouring Orbitz.com for plane — tickets. This could be fun - maybe even special.

Deadly weapon

The Washington factor is all-consuming. Having that kind — of weapon has afforded SOU the luxury of knowing exactly what to expect — from opposing defenses.

"Oh, they'll zone us," SOU head coach Brian McDermott — said prior to Friday's game. "It's just like St. Ambrose - we didn't see — any possessions of zone on the two tapes that we had and then they started — it against us. (Washington) is just scaring people to death, and last — night didn't help."

Sure enough, the Jets did come out in a zone. The strategy — backfired initially - SOU took a 10-point lead in the first half. Newman — switched back to man and nearly pulled off the upset before guess who — saved the Raiders' day and season.

The comeback

Speaking of the Newman game: Whoa! Those who have followed — the Raiders closely this season know they've made some clutch plays to — win some big ball games, but nothing like this. SOU was down 54-47 on — the road - I know it's technically a neutral site, but Raider fans were — outnumbered two-to-one, easy - and fought back possession by possession — to grind out the biggest win in the program's 98-year history.

Washington wasn't the only hero, although he did make — the two biggest plays of the game - a 3-pointer with 2:50 left that gave — the Raiders the lead for good, and a resounding breakaway dunk that immediately — followed his own rebound tip out (it helps when your best post player — can outrun opposing guards).

There were other big, non-Washington plays: junior point — guard Steve Farley swished two free throws with 3.2 seconds left to give — SOU a three-point lead; junior forward Ryan Gabel hit Washington with — a beautiful lead pass that led to the aforementioned slam, and earlier — converted a three-point play with 4:47 left; and junior center Jeff Williams — pulled down a team-high nine boards to makeup for a horrific 1-for-8 shooting — performance.

But Washington deserves most of the credit. He scored — 18 of SOU's 34 second-half points and did it efficiently, hitting 9 of — 14 field goals and 8 of 8 free throws.

"Our guys know that our primary option in everything that — we do is Shea," McDermott said. "When it got down to the end, Shea was — asking for it and we were getting it to him. I guess you can call that — execution."

Soon enough, it may turn out to be championship-quality — execution. Better get those tickets.

Sports editor can be reached at 482-3456 ext. — 3020 or joe.zavala@dailytidings.com