MIAA's top defensive player leads FHSU past Lincoln
Published on -3/6/2013, 10:01 AM
By CONOR NICHOLL
Fort Hays State University coach Tony Hobson had a call with the other MIAA women's basketball coaches earlier this week for the all-conference team. Hobson said there was little argument when it came to Defensive Player of the Year.
Fort Hays sophomore center Kate Lehman, the nation's leader with 4.2 blocks per game, picked up the award. Lehman, who leads the Tigers with 16 points and nine rebounds, also earned first team all-conference.
"I didn't get much resistance when I was putting in my two cents for her," Hobson said. "She is one of the few people in our league that can change a game defensively. There might be a couple others, but not to her level."
On Tuesday, Lehman continued her dominance. She led the Tigers with 22 points, seven rebounds and five blocks in a 70-57 victory against Lincoln (Mo.) University at Gross Memorial Coliseum in the first round of the MIAA postseason conference tournament.
The Tigers used a 13-0 run to start the game, and defeated the Blue Tigers for the second time in Hays in five days. Fort Hays led by as many as 19 in the second half, but Lincoln usually stayed relatively close. Hobson received a rare technical foul at the 13-minute, 28-second mark of the second half. Lincoln cut it to eight points after the technical, but then FHSU went on a 16-5 run to put the game out of reach.
"You would like to have it a little cleaner and have the margin better," Hobson said. "We had it up there a couple of times and ready to get them completely out of there. Give them credit travel-wise for what they have done the last five or six days.
"They were playing with nothing to lose," he added. "You were seeing some shots come up from everywhere that took our kids by surprise a couple of times, and then they hit them."
Fort Hays, receiving votes nationally and the No. 6 seed in the conference tournament, improved to 21-6, the most victories since the program switched to the MIAA before the '06-07 season.
Tuesday marked the first MIAA postseason conference tournament victory in program history. The Tigers will face third-seeded Northeastern State (Okla.) University at 8:15 p.m. Friday at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo., in a likely play-in game to the NCAA Division II tournament. Lincoln, the No. 11 seed, finished 11-16. Senior Arriana Walker led Lincoln with 22 points.
Lehman was more concerned with the Northeastern contest than her awards. Last year, she was third team all-conference and on the defensive team, but FHSU fell short of the NCAA tournament with a 20-9 record.
"They are really cool honors to have and I appreciate all the support from the community and stuff, but it's not really a big deal," Lehman said. "My teammates are what made it happen. Northeastern was our first loss of the season (on Jan. 3) and we don't want it to be our last. If we win that, we have a really good chance of getting into the regional tournament. We need to win it."
Against Lincoln, Lehman and junior Katelyn Edwards led the way. Edwards finished with third team honors after she was second team all-MIAA last winter. She collected 13 points, 14 rebounds, five assists and no rebounds. For the season, Edwards has averaged 13 points and nine rebounds.
Edwards and Lehman combined for the Tigers' first 17 points, often on either baskets that also resulted in fouls or on fast-break opportunities. By the 17:18 mark of the first half, the Blue Tigers had four fouls, while FHSU collected zero.
As she has many times this year, Lehman also showed her mobility. She helped limit Lincoln, the league's fastest-paced team, to 12-of-37 shooting (32.4 percent) inside the arc. Lehman also stepped out to block a couple of 3-pointers.
Lehman, with a school record 210 blocks, was the anchor for another strong Tiger defense. Last year, FHSU allowed .933 points per possession in conference play.
This season, Fort Hays finished second in defensive efficiency, allowing just .835 points per possession against MIAA opponents. Washburn University, ranked fifth nationally and first in the Central Region rankings, led at .759.
"It's so much more impressive this year than last year," Hobson said of Lehman's defense.
"Because people aren't going at her like they did last year. She had way more opportunities last year to block shots. Now, they are game planning to actually throw it in there and kick it out because they know they probably can't score on her. For her, I thought it was a slam dunk as far as defensive player of the year."