Chandler, No. 11 Tigers get it done with defense
By CONOR NICHOLL
Fort Hays State University women's basketball coach Tony Hobson told freshman guard Taylor Chandler that it might take a little time for her to get caught up to the college game in certain skills, including shooting quickly, ball handling and improving her left hand.
However, the speedy 5-foot-5 Chandler already is strong in one area: playing defense. Chandler, who averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 assists and 5.4 steals on an undefeated Class 6A Wichita Heights squad last winter, has shown a knack for creating turnovers and deflections for the Tigers.
Chandler has averaged just 3.8 points per contest and has an 11/20 assist to turnover ratio in a reserve role. But she has collected 17 steals in 145 minutes of action. She is tied for ninth in the conference in steals. Her 4.69 steals per 40 minutes ranks third-best in the conference (min. 13 steals).
"I like playing defense and defense is one of the best parts of the game," Chandler said.
Last Saturday, Chandler played a career-high 29 minutes and contributed two steals, but Hobson said Chandler had multiple deflections and uncredited forced turnovers that weren't recorded in the boxscore.
Chandler helped Fort Hays to a 57-42 road victory against Missouri Western State University and is one of the reasons why the Tigers are 8-0, 2-0 MIAA. Fort Hays moved up six spots in the newest national rankings released Tuesday and now stands at No. 11 in the country. As well, the Tigers are tied for first nationally with Shaw (N.C.) University in scoring defense, allowing just 45 points per contest.
"What is the difference between high school defense and college defense?" Hobson said in his weekly news conference Monday. "It's still just you work hard, you get in them and you play hard, and she can do that, and she showed it Saturday. She was really valuable."
Fort Hays' increased depth, quickness and interior presence of sophomore center Kate Lehman has helped the Tigers rise to the best ranking in the school's NCAA Division II era.
"Being ranked this high, it's really something," sophomore Keriann Shaw said. "I think we have a lot of high expectations for ourselves, but we've just got to keep pushing."
Fort Hays stands second nationally in scoring margin (plus-31.9), second in blocks per game (7.5), sixth in turnover margin (plus-9.25) and seventh in field goal percentage defense (30.9). Lehman ranks second in blocks at 4.5 per game.
"She is down there to help you out, and I can always hear her talking, too," Shaw said. "She is very good at communicating with all of us."
On Saturday, Fort Hays travels to Oklahoma Panhandle State University for a non-conference contest in Goodwell, Okla. Game time is 5:30 p.m. It is the women's final game before holiday break and is also the Tigers' only road non-conference contest of the season. Hobson calls Saturday's matchup with 2-6 Aggies "definitely a trap game." Panhandle has lost six in a row and Fort Hays just completed finals week.
"I am worried about that," Hobson said. "It's a concern, and we have mentioned that with the kids. When Saturday rolls around, they will be concerned with the past, which is the past week of finals and they will be worried about the results of that.
"They will be concerned about the future, which will be about going home a week for Christmas and what they have to forget, they have to forget the history and forget the maybe," he added. "If we can get them to concentrate for 24, maybe 36 hours in there, we will be fine, and that's we are going to ask of them."
Chandler, part of Wichita Heights' teams that went 50-0 the last two seasons, is on a personal 58-game winning streak that stretches back to the Class 6A state championship game her sophomore year. Expected to be part of a three-player group at point guard with senior Kaiameka Brown and freshman Beth Bohuslavsky, Chandler has played more at the wing and wreaked havoc with her speed and defense.
"First of all, the reason she likes to do it, it's just like any player, the thing that you do best is usually what you enjoy the most," Hobson said. "If you are a great shooter, then you like to shoot it. If you are a great ballhandler, then sometimes you dribble it too much. Well, you can't really play too much defense. I think that's why she likes it, is because she is very good at it."
With the exception of last Saturday, Chandler has played between 13 and 19 minutes every contest and tallied a steal in all but one game.
"I use my speed to get places, and it helps a lot," Chandler said.
Among the Tigers, Chandler ranks behind junior forward Katelyn Edwards and senior guard Melissa Nelson, who are each tied for fifth in the MIAA with 19 steals. However, Nelson averages 3.82 steals per 40 minutes and Edwards stands at 3.5 steals per 40 minutes, rates lower than Chandler's.
"She has a skill," Hobson said. "Not everybody can do that, and to do what she does, you have to have some physical gifts, which she obviously has, but you also have to have a little toughness, and she is a tough kid. I've just told her, there is always one thing that we should be able to count on you for and that's defense. You ought to be able to play hard and play good defense when you are in there."