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Lehman back to form for Tigers; FHSU hosts Mo. Western

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

In the first five conference games after holiday break, Fort Hays State University sophomore center Kate Lehman mixed a 25-point outing against Emporia State University with three single figure contests -- her only games with fewer than 10 points this winter. Against Pittsburg State University on Jan. 19, Lehman scored a season-low four points on 2-of-15 shooting.

Since then, Lehman has returned to usual form, including a terrific game at Washburn University, ranked No. 5 in NCAA Division II, on Saturday.

Lehman scored 22 of the Tigers' 41 points in a 20-point loss. She pulled down five rebounds with six blocks, and played 30 minutes, her third-most this season.

"There was about a two to two and half week period in there where she just didn't look quite as quick and just didn't play with as much energy, and I think really the last three or four games has been markedly better," coach Tony Hobson said in his weekly news conference Monday. "First of all, she is playing more minutes and she is running the floor real well, playing a lot stronger."

Fort Hays will complete the regular season at home this week with two games. The first contest comes Wednesday night against Missouri Western State University (14-10, 7-9 MIAA). Game time is 5:30 p.m. at Gross Memorial Coliseum. The Tigers defeated the Griffons 57-42 on Dec. 8 in St. Joseph, Mo.

Since then, Missouri Western has had some personnel changes, including two Griffons who now play key roles who didn't play in the first contest because of injury. Senior forward Heather Howard, who did play in December, averages 13.5 points and 9.9 rebounds to pace the Griffons.

"She gives everybody a little bit of a matchup problem," Hobson said. "She sets a lot of out on the floor, on-ball screens and if you don't have somebody out there, you can't just sit back."

FHSU is 11-1 at home this year. The Tigers, receiving votes nationally and ranked 10th in the Central Region rankings, are 18-6, 10-6 MIAA.

Lehman upped her numbers to 15.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and a nation-best 4.13 blocks per contest. This year, she has added a 15- to 18-foot jump shot to her game that she used against Washburn, too.

"Basically, all she needed was permission," Hobson said. "She was tentative as a freshman, like, 'Am I really supposed to be shooting this?' I made it clear to her that if she is faced up from 15, it's a good shot for her. She is going to make 50 to 60 percent of those. They are basically free throws and she is usually not contested at all."

Hobson believes Lehman is a first-team all-MIAA player; the Tigers have had only two since joining the conference before the 2006-07 season.

"There's not five players that are better than her in our conference," Hobson said.

Lehman, who already holds the school record for career and single season blocks, actually could have more blocks. Hobson watches the tape post game from each contest. On Saturday, he noticed Lehman should have had eight blocks, if not more.

"She has been shorted on the road every game in blocks, except for one, because we go through the tape and we just count the obvious ones," Hobson said. "The ball changes directions four or five feet."

However, Lehman's performance was trumped by struggling play from the Tigers' perimeter. FHSU's 41 points was the fewest in the Hobson era.

"Kate did really well tonight and she was finishing those, and we just need to make sure that we have people diving and crashing all the time and then definitely getting back," senior guard Traci Keyser said. "I think we got caught going to the board and then we were not getting back on defense at the other end of the court, so we've just got to be able to do both of those things. Kate played really well tonight, and I am proud of her."

Fort Hays sunk just 10 field goals, shot 21 percent from the field and went 0 of 12 from 3-point range, the worst statistics by a MIAA team in any game this season. FHSU's guards went a combined 0 of 22, while Washburn's guards finished 17 of 31.

"I thought our perimeter game offensively and defensively, was as bad as I have seen it," Hobson said. "...We weren't cutting, we weren't hitting the open looks that we got. We weren't getting a lot of good open looks."