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Raiders live up to No. 1 seed, cruise to first-round win

The Southern Oregon women’s basketball team stepped up to the grand stage of the national tournament and delivered another show-stopping performance Thursday.

Led by Autumn Durand’s double-double and a big advantage inside the No. 3-ranked Raiders jumped out to a 24-8 lead early in the second quarter and increased it to 56-33 in the third en route to an 85-63 victory over Clarke of Iowa in the first round of the NAIA Division II women’s basketball tournament at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa.

Durand had 21 points and 11 rebounds, Ashley Claussen 17 points, five assists and six steals and Carly Meister 15 points and five boards for the No. 1-seeded Raiders, who will play fourth-seeded and 15th-ranked Briar Cliff in the second round of the Duer quadrant today. The SOU-Briar Cliff winner advances to the national quarterfinals, which would represent SOU’s deepest run since 1997.

In the other Duer quadrant games Thursday, Briar Cliff beat 19th-ranked St. Ambrose 75-63, 11th-ranked Tabor beat 22nd-ranked Hastings 68-44 and unranked Asbury stunned sixth-ranked St. Francis 63-60.

“I was really pleased that we kind of came out and jumped on ’em,” said Southern Oregon head coach Alex Carlson, whose Raiders improved to 30-1 to set a new school record for wins in a season. “You never know how those first four minutes are going to go when you got the big-game jitters. And one thing that’s a little difficult about this tournament is you don’t get to practice in the arena, so a 10-minute warm-up and your first time playing in the gym. It was great to get a couple easy ones early and to kind of get that lead and let ourselves settle in and get comfortable.”

The Raiders certainly appeared comfy as they dominated the opening minutes, surging to a 16-3 lead after Toria Bradford sank a 3-pointer with 4 minutes, 21 seconds to go in the opening quarter. They led 21-8 after one and 45-28 at the half and put the game out of reach by outscoring Clarke 25-16 in the third.

The second-high scoring team in the nation, the Raiders also proved they can play defense Thursday by holding Clarke’s leading scorer, Breland Prochaska, to eight points on 3 of 13 shooting and shutting out the Chargers (23-9) from beyond the arc (0-for-5).

“They have a couple really good shooters and I think we did a great job staying attached,” Carlson said. “We sped the game up and kind of got it at our pace. They were playing fast and we gave up a couple easy ones that we don’t like to, but on the flip side now you’re not giving up the long shots. So, I was very pleased with the defensive pressure and not giving up 3s.”

Up 70-44 heading into the fourth, the Raiders eased up a bit down the stretch and were outscored in the final quarter, but the Crusaders never climbed closer than 19 points.

Durand, a junior guard, hit 9 of 14 shots, including 2 of 3 from long range, to lead a Raider offense that has scored 85 points or more in five straight games. Claussen, the Cascade Conference player of the year, drained 4 of 10 3-point attempts.

The Raiders outrebounded the Crusaders 51-41 and had 23 steals which yielded 24 points off turnovers. The Raiders also had an 18-3 advantage in second-chance points, capitalizing on their 20 offensive boards.

“(The Crusaders) really don’t have our depth inside,” Carlson said, “and we were planning on being active and attacking the hoop. We kind of planned and talked about, again with those first-game jitters, there are going to be a couple of those easy ones that don’t go in that you usually make and so I think we did a good job of not assuming the shots were going to go in and got some easy put-backs because of that.”

Briar Cliff, from Iowa, should present SOU with a stiffer challenge in the second round. The Chargers (23-9) have some impressive wins on their resume, including an overtime victory over Tabor, and have made six national tournament appearances in the last seven years.

Carlson expects an exciting matchup because both teams like to run.

“It’s funny, they play very similar to the way we do,” he said. “They press, they play a trapping zone. I think it’s going to be a really fun game because it’s going to be up-tempo. I think it’s kind of nice because it’s what we see every day in practice. They’re bigger than we are — they’re a big, physical team from out here — but we’re hoping our speed can cause them some problems.”

Carlson added that Briar Cliff hails from Sioux City, so he expects the Chargers to enjoy a big home-court advantage.

“But at the same time,” he said, “it’s fun to play in front of a lot of people. We’re excited about the opportunity we have.”