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SOU women aim for split with Owls as regular season winds down

Oregon Tech comes to town on Saturday as the Southern Oregon women's basketball team will host its archrival in a 5:30 p.m. Cascade Collegiate Conference matchup at Bob Riehm Arena.

Southern Oregon, 17-8 overall and 6-7 in conference play, looks to make a move up in the CCC standings as the 2012-13 regular season winds down in the next three weeks. The Raiders are currently sixth in the standings, 2 1/2 games behind Warner Pacific for a fourth-place spot and the chance to host a CCC tournament first-round matchup.

Oregon Tech comes in with a 9-4 conference record, 16-7 overall, and a third-place spot in the standings.

"It's a big game for both teams this week as we're trying to secure a playoff spot for the Cascade Conference tournament," SOU head coach Lynn Kennedy said.

The Raiders defeated Concordia on Saturday to end a three-game skid and followed that up with a 75-57 nonconference win over New Hope on Tuesday in Eugene. Saturday will provide a chance to earn a season split with OIT after the Owls knocked off the Raiders 100-82 on Jan. 5. With five games left on the schedule, Kennedy believes his team has taken a step forward in the past two wins.

"We've started to play a little bit better, especially on the defensive end rebounding the ball," Kennedy said. "We need to continue to do that against (OIT), guard their outside as well as their inside and be able to rebound."

Southern Oregon ranks second in NAIA Divivion II in rebounding (48.1 per game) and shooting percentage (48 percent), and the Raiders rank fourth in rebounding margin (plus-9.4) and scoring (85.7). In conference play, SOU ranks first in the CCC in scoring (78 points per game) and rebounding margin (plus-5.0), while ranking second in shooting percentage (.443) and steals (9.8).

Melissa Sweat ranks second in the conference in scoring (18.6 points per game), with Alexi Smith ranking fifth (16.1) and Allison Gida ninth (14.0). Smith ranks third in rebounding (8.7) and fifth in shooting percentage (.493). Kennedy hopes his team will continue to improve Saturday, and turn defensive rebounds into quick buckets at the other end.

"We feel like we can push the tempo and get into a running game," Kennedy said. "That's kind of the goal for us this week."

Oregon Tech comes into the weekend with six wins in its past eight games. During the conference season the Owls have limited opponents to 60.6 points per game with an average scoring margin of plus-3.5. Both marks rank third in the CCC. The Owls limit opponents' to the second-lowest shooting percentage in the league (.379), while OIT's 3-point shooting ranks third in the conference (.335).

"They're playing very well right now," Kennedy said. "They're one of the hottest teams in our league right now. They're so balanced. Offensively they can score and defensively they're one of the top two or three teams in the conference as well, so they provide challenges on both ends of the court."

Karissa Dixon leads the balanced offensive attack with an average of 11.6 points per game during the CCC season, with Nicole Aboumrad adding 11 points and Kassi Conditt 9.5. Conditt leads the league in rebounding (10.1) and ranks second in blocked shots (2.2) and fourth in shooting percentage (.500).

"They play together and they play hard, so it will be a challenge for us," Kennedy said.