Tiger women move to 8-0
By CONOR NICHOLL
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- Coach Tony Hobson constantly stresses communication in practice with the Fort Hays State University women's basketball team.
"There might be a day where we aren't talking as much, and you can tell because you are not on top of your game necessarily," sophomore Keriann Shaw said. "That is almost always the first thing he points out."
On Saturday, communication and team chemistry was critical against Missouri Western State University and 6-foot-3 senior Heather Howard, a forward able to play inside and outside. Hobson called Howard FHSU's toughest matchup of the year. However, Fort Hays' strong defense, especially in the second half, helped the Tigers earn a 57-42 road victory at MWSU Fieldhouse.
Fort Hays, ranked No. 17 in NCAA Division II, held the Griffons to 25 percent shooting and forced 20 turnovers. The Tigers improved to 8-0, 2-0 MIAA, while Missouri Western, receiving votes nationally, dropped to 8-2, 1-1 MIAA.
Howard, a first-year transfer from Oklahoma State University, led the Griffons with 15 points on 6-of-15 shooting, but had just five points on 2-of-10 shooting after intermission.
Missouri Western scored its fewest points since a 39-point effort against Michigan Tech on Nov. 20, 2009.
The Griffons had their worst shooting percentage since it also shot 25 percent against Washburn University on Feb. 2, 2008.
Often, if 6-foot junior forward Katelyn Edwards guarded Howard, Howard went to the post. If 6-foot-4 sophomore center Kate Lehman guarded Howard, then Howard went to the perimeter.
"It's getting better all the time," Hobson said. "I really think that we are going to be able to communicate even better than we are now. It's better than it was, but it's not where it needs to be, but today it was essential with the matchup headaches that Howard gives you."
The Tigers were a strong defensive team last year when they finished 20-9. This year, though, Fort Hays' added depth, speed, team chemistry and strong communication has helped the squad lead the MIAA in scoring offense, scoring defense, field goal percentage defense and blocks.
"At this point in the season now, we are definitely talking more than we were at this point in the season last year," Shaw said. "I think we are just very comfortable playing with each other, too."
Fort Hays trailed 25-21 at halftime was down 31-29 with 14 minutes, 57 seconds left when Lehman, the team's leading scorer, rebounder and shot blocker, left the game with three fouls.
"We all had to work together as a team and get back from being down at halftime," freshman Taylor Chandler said. "We knew we couldn't lose this game, so we knew that we had to step up since Kate got in foul trouble."
Lehman, who paced the team with 17 points, six rebounds and three blocks, didn't return until 8:31 remained. However, FHSU went on a 12-4 run without Lehman. Howard sat for part of the run with foul trouble, too, and finished with four fouls.
"It basically allowed us to No. 1, rest Kate Lehman, so when she did come back, she was more effective and 2, we weren't giving up the easy open 3 so much, because we were matched up better," Hobson said.
Without Lehman, FHSU had key plays from several players, including Chandler, Shaw and junior forward Tera Ingalsbe, all reserves. Senior Kaiameka Brown collected a steal and found a sprinting Shaw for a wide-open layup and a 36-32 lead with 11:56 left in the game. Shaw finished with seven points and six rebounds in 13 minutes.
"It always helps when Keriann comes in and gets every rebound for about a four-minute stretch," Hobson said. "She really has a nose for the ball, and there is never a time when she doesn't go to the boards. You know that you can always count on her for that."
With 11:14 remaining, Ingalsbe hit a 3-pointer for a 39-33 lead. Ingalsbe, who also guarded Howard some throughout the game, is 2-of-2 on treys and 16-of-16 on free throws this winter.
"She is kind of a space-eater," Hobson said. "She doesn't play up at the same level that Kate Lehman does, but she is a good defender, position-wise."
Chandler created problems on the perimeter with her defense. She finished with six points and two steals in a career-high 29 minutes. However, Hobson estimated Chandler had five other pass deflections or disruptions.
"I really liked our defense," Hobson said. "They just try to penetrate all the time and Taylor did the best of any of our on-ball defenders of keeping them out of the lane. She is just really, really dynamite guarding the ball, and she showed it today.
"She pressures without fouling," he added. "She is always like borderline trying to foul, but she is so quick that she just kind of brushes them. That's a skill. She knows how far to go without fouling them, and she did a good job of guarding them in the backcourt."
Fort Hays will have a week off before travel to Oklahoma Panhandle State University for a non-conference game Saturday.