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Keyser leads Tiger women past UNK

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Senior guard Traci Keyser will complete her career with more than 100 games played, more than 50 starts and possibly 1,000 points. She is top 10 in multiple career statistics and could finish as Fort Hays State University's all-time leader in free throw percentage. Still, Keyser has experienced plenty of ups and downs in her career.

She has eclipsed 20 points six times in four years. However, Keyser also went through a two-month stretch this season where she never scored in double figures. Still, Keyser has always remained positive and a strong leader. On Saturday, Keyser enjoyed another upswing when she tallied a game-high 24 points in an 87-63 victory against rival University of Nebraska-Kearney at Gross Memorial Coliseum.

"It's all about highs and lows, and it's how you overcome those," Keyser said. "Feel like you just keep pushing forward and not giving up and keep believing in yourself and your teammates."

Fort Hays, receiving votes nationally, finished 4-0 on a two-week homestand and improved to 16-5, 8-5 MIAA.

UNK, in its first season of MIAA play, dropped to 6-14, 3-10 MIAA. The contest produced a season-high 3,025 fans for the first league contest between the two rivals since both squads played in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference in 2005-06.

FHSU, wearing pink uniforms for its annual breast cancer awareness contest, rarely trailed and led 47-38 at halftime and by 30 points late in the game. Keyser, who has come off the bench since Jan. 5, finished 8 of 15, including 5 of 10 from 3-point range for her most points since she tallied 29 at home against Missouri Western State University on Feb. 3, 2011.

"She really looked comfortable shooting the ball and she is kind of getting back in stride with what we have seen from her in the past," coach Tony Hobson said. "Really, that was as good as she shot for awhile. The main thing, she got 10 3s up, and she really didn't force one. I like the way our kids set her up a couple of times."

Keyser has collected 842 career points and stands fourth in Tiger history in 3-point field goals with 115. She now has 278 made free throws in her career, one off a tie for fourth place (all records since '84-85). Keyser, though, doesn't know where stands in her career.

"It's just having fun here and enjoying every moment and playing the game that you love," Keyser said.

Keyser, who also carries a 4.0 grade-point average and earned academic All-American honors last year, has continually worked hard even when she has struggled.

"Traci is a consummate teammate," Hobson said. "She is one of the rare people that doesn't just say they put the team before herself, she actually does. If she is not in the game, she is cheering somebody else on. If she is disappointed and not getting a chance to play, she doesn't show it around the other kids. It's been great to coach her for four years."

The Lopers, paced by 15 points from sophomore forward Melissa Norman, kept the game close for most of the first half. FHSU went often after steals defensively and the Lopers shot 68 percent in the first half despite 12 turnovers.

"I thought we gambled a little bit early," Hobson said. "We just need to be solid on defense," Keyser said. Fort Hays finished 7 of 20 (35 percent) beyond the arc. Keyser hit three treys in the first half and two in the second. It marked the Tigers' second-most treys in a contest since Dec 5.

Before Saturday, FHSU has averaged 4.3 3-pointers made per game and shot 26.6 percent from beyond the arc, numbers that rank second to last and last in the conference.

The Tigers will play at Northwest Missouri State University on Wednesday.

"It gives us a good perimeter threat," Hobson said of the 3s. "Our post players are going to score, but when you add that perimeter threat, it makes you a lot tougher."