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Tiger women playing fast

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

The Fort Hays State University women's basketball team jumped out to a 34-1 lead against No. 23-ranked University of Central Missouri en route to a 95-50 victory Wednesday night. The run was extremely rare, but it was another fast start for the Tigers, ranked No. 17 in NCAA Division II.

On Nov. 17, FHSU opened on a 23-3 burst and eventually won 93-53 against Northwestern Oklahoma State University. On Nov. 23, Fort Hays started on a 9-0 run and rolled to an 81-52 victory against a quality Arkansas Tech team.

"We are a fast team," sophomore center Kate Lehman, who leads the team with 18.6 points and 8.6 rebounds, said. "I am the slowest one, and I am not that slow. I am pretty slow, but I am not a stick in the dirt. It helps a lot that we are just a quick team. We have a good mental game, I think, so that is always helpful."

Fort Hays, 7-0 overall and 1-0 MIAA, has outscored opponents 268-133 in the first half, and 290-185 after intermission. The average plus-19.3 margin in the first half is significantly higher than last season's plus-6.9 first half average.

"I think one thing we do real well is execute our game plan and some of that comes with the experience of starting three seniors and a junior and Kate Lehman in the post. Some of it comes from that, just having a little leadership," coach Tony Hobson said.

Before Central Missouri, Fort Hays moved to No. 23 in the rankings during a 10-day break. On Tuesday, without playing a game, FHSU jumped six spots in the poll because of other team's results. Fort Hays, ranked for the first time since '96-97, has the highest ranking in the program's NCAA history. FHSU is now 2-0 all-time when both teams are ranked.

"We didn't expect to jump (six) spots without playing a game, that's for sure," Lehman said. "We were just ready to play tonight. We had the itch. We had (10) days off. We were just ready to go, so that helped a lot probably."

On Saturday, Fort Hays has its first true road game of the winter when it travels to Missouri Western State University, 8-1, 1-0 MIAA and receiving votes nationally. While five MIAA teams, No. 8 Washburn University, No. 11 Pittsburg State University, UCM, FHSU and No. 21 Emporia State University, are ranked, Hobson believes Western is on par with the top 25.

"I think they are as good or better than Central at this point, and they will probably get some attention sometime, because I really like the team, because they start three seniors, a couple transfers, a couple junior college kids," Hobson said.

Missouri Western has already won more games than it did in last winter's 7-20 finish. First-year coach Rob Edmisson took over for Lynn Plett after he coached at Oklahoma City University since 2005. Edmisson led Oklahoma City to seven NAIA Division I tournaments. Senior forward Heather Howard, a Oklahoma State University transfer, is the lone Griffon in double figures and leads the team with 12.7 points and 10.3 rebounds. Missouri Western is 5-1 in games decided by eight points or fewer.

"The kid they got from Oklahoma State is a good player, 6-3 out on the perimeter," Hobson said. "We will have to have a heck of an effort on the road to get them."

Against Central Missouri, FHSU's strong starting five, press and quality depth helped the Tigers enjoy a historic run.

"Early in the game when it was 9-1, 11-1, I was almost anticipating a little run by them and we were thinking that we might want to change defense a little bit, but that just never happened," Hobson said. "Part of it was the first little four-minute spurt, you are playing with a lot of energy. People get tired and you go to the bench and your bench comes in and does the same thing and really just never let them up off the deck."

Fort Hays finished with the most points and biggest margin of victory in a conference game in the school's MIAA era. The 45-point loss was the worst for Central Missouri since 1974-75. FHSU has nine players who average between 15 and 26 minutes a contest this year.

"Sometimes you just get that snowball and you can't stop it and our depth is good enough, that I didn't have anybody play over 24 minutes (versus Central)," Hobson said.

"But the thing is, our other (bench) kids are so good that they were beating them, too, and that's when you get a score like this."