Tatyana Legette doesn't need a huge scoring night to show how vital the versatile forward is for the Fort Hays State women’s basketball team.
But when the No. 9-ranked Tigers needed Legette to take over offensively in Tuesday night's conference opener, the senior delivered in a big way.
Legette scored a season-high 23 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to help the Tigers fend off Nebraska-Kearney, 62-53, in Gross Memorial Coliseum.
The Topeka native powered the Tigers through a cold shooting night, with FHSU going just 36 percent from the field.
Legette was the best offensive option all game, finishing 6 of 12 from the field and draining 11 of 12 free throws as Fort Hays moved to 7-0 overall and 1-0 in MIAA play.
“When T’s playing like that, we can get by without making a bunch of outside shots,” FHSU coach Tony Hobson said. “We needed her tonight. (The Lopers) have good post play, but neither one of their 5s could handle T offensively. She was either getting a good shot or getting to the line.”
After Kearney crept to within two early in the fourth, the Tigers began running virtually every offensive set for Legette, who came up with a four-point spurt to help FHSU to a six-point cushion midway through the quarter.
Another quick four points from Legette, including a mid-range jumper, helped FHSU go up eight with 2:19 left.
“It’s just important to read the defense,” Legette said. “They obviously knew we were running iso and that we were trying to get me the ball, so it's just important that I control the ball and know what to do with it.”
Legette had the best outing of her career at the foul line, improving on her 68-percent mark from the stripe entering the game.
“So in the beginning of the season, free throws weren’t in my favor,” she said. “They weren’t so good. So I really focused on my follow through with my shot — just bend your knees and have confidence. Don’t think back to previous games, live in the moment and make the shot.”
Legette was a rebound shy of having a double-double at halftime, posting 10 points and nine bounds as FHSU took an 11-point lead into the break.
“She had a great game. More than just scoring … when she wasn’t in the game we had a hard time clearing a rebound,” Hobson said. “She just rebounds on a different level. She gets first opportunity at every rebound because she’s a foot higher than everybody.”
After Fort Hays was on the verge of running away with it in the second quarter, the Lopers fought back by outscoring FHSU 22-15 in the third frame to make it a 49-45 game heading into the fourth but couldn’t take the lead from FHSU.
“They’re always going to play us tough and we knew it would be like that,” Hobson said. “Third quarter was not good. We didn’t execute well. We just got beat off the dribble too much, and that’s their game, attacking the basket.
“But when I say I’m complaining about (defense) — we gave up 53 points, which isn’t much. But you have to be pretty stingy when you’re not shooting the ball very well from outside (3 of 17 from 3-point range). So you have to win games in different ways.”
Junior Kacey Kennett was the only other Tiger to join Legette in double figures, scoring 15.
UNK’s Kelsey Sanger and Shiloh McCool combined for 36 points, with Sanger putting up 21 and McCool 15.The Lopers (5-3, 0-1 MIAA) finished 22 of 57 for 39 percent.
The Tigers will play host to Emporia State at 2 p.m. on Saturday.