SIOUX FALLS, S.D — Thanks in large part to a career game from Kacey Kennett and a late defensive stop, the Fort Hays State women's basketball team is headed to the NCAA Division II Central Regional semifinals.
The No. 6-seeded Tigers knocked off No. 3-seeded Southwestern Oklahoma State 78-75 on Friday in the regional opener, advancing to face Central Missouri in the semis at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
Kennett tied her career high with 20 points and grabbed a career-best 14 rebounds. The sophomore guard hit a 3-pointer with 3:39 left to give the Tigers a 74-71 advantage and FHSU never relinquished the lead from there, surviving some tense moments to move to 26-6 on the season.
"Kacey had maybe her best game in her two years with us," FHSU coach Tony Hobson said in the postgame press conference. "She just played great."
SWOSU, the Great American Conference regular-season champions, trailed by a point with the ball in the last 10 seconds but missed a jumper. After a scramble for the rebound, a jump ball was called with 1.2 on the clock and the Tigers had the possession arrow.
FHSU's Taylor Rolfs was fouled with 0.7 seconds left and hit two free throws to push the lead to three. The Bulldogs were able to advance the ball after a timeout and then missed a desperation 3 at the buzzer.
"We played well down the stretch. Hit some big free throws when we needed them and hit some timely shots and defended well enough to win," Hobson said. "I was proud of the way we played in a close game."
Kennett secured a double and double by halftime with 10 points and 11 boards in the first half. She was 8 of 14 from the field and 3 of 4 from 3-point range.
"Honestly, in warm-ups I wasn't hitting much," Kennett said. "But obviously in the game it felt pretty good, so I kept on shooting."
FHSU led 32-31 at halftime and led 61-56 after a high-scoring third quarter. The Tigers built a nine-point advantage early in the fourth before SWOSU used a 13-3 run to take the lead.
SWOSU was up by a point with five minutes left before Belle Barbieri hit one of free throws to tie it, followed by Kennett's go-ahead 3.
Junior forward Tatyana Legette scored 15 for FHSU while Emma Stoyan, Rolfs and Barbieri each had 10. Barbieri also grabbed nine boards.
"We had some big games from people, and we needed every point," Hobson said.
Tyra Aska led SWOSU with 21 points on a 9-of-14 effort from the field, while Hailey Tucker had 19 points and Hayden Priddy had 18.
No. 2-seeded Central Missouri advanced to the semifinals with a 66-49 win over Minnesota State-Moorhead.