Lehman improving across the board for Tiger women
By CONOR NICHOLL
Fort Hays State University sophomore center Kate Lehman started 2 of 7 from the field in the Tigers' road contest last Saturday against Oklahoma Panhandle State University. Still, Lehman finished with her usual line in an 87-54 victory.
In 23 minutes, Lehman delivered 16 points, 13 rebounds, five blocks and one personal foul. She earned MIAA Player of the Week honors for the second time this year. Lehman's performance continued her strong winter that has seen improvements in points, rebounds, blocks and shooting percentage.
Plus, Lehman has bettered the numbers in three non-mainstream, but important, statistics: block recovery rate, interior defense and foul rate.
"Even on her 'off nights,' she is really still productive," coach Tony Hobson said in his weekly news conference Monday. "She gets a double-double, five blocks, in (23 minutes). She probably changed eight other shots that caused them to miss. She has had better games, but is still giving us a lot. That's the sign of a player becoming a great player. On your not-as-productive-nights as others, you are still getting those kinds of stats."
The victory continued the best start in Tiger women's basketball history and capped a terrific first semester. Fort Hays is 9-0 and rose one spot to No. 10 in NCAA Division II in the latest coaches' poll released Tuesday.
It marks the first time FHSU has collected a top-10 ranking. The Tigers lead the nation in scoring defense (46 points allowed per contest) and scoring margin (plus-32.0).
Fort Hays has won twice on the road and two neutral site contests.
FHSU, ranked for a fourth consecutive week, won at least eight games to start the season for the first time.
The nine-game winning streak is the longest during any span since a 10-game run in a 21-7 season in 2005-06.
The Tigers will play host to South Dakota School of Mines for the first time on Dec. 29.
Hobson is pleased with several aspects, including dealing and handing out "physical play," and the best top-to-bottom chemistry in his five years in Hays.
"I am pleased with how we have not taken anybody lightly," Hobson said.
"We have came ready to play every game regardless of who it was or where it was, and I think that is just a great trait to have is just always show up and play the game. We have played on the road now a few times. We seem to travel OK. We are not easily intimidated."
"Those things -- just about our kids preparing themselves to play, those are really, really important and they will become more important," he added.
Last year, Lehman emerged after Christmas and finished with 10.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, 96 blocks and 57 personal fouls in 29 games. She shot 50.4 percent from the field and 60.2 percent from the foul line.
This season, Lehman has averaged 18.1 points, 8.8 rebounds with 41 blocks and 13 personal fouls. She has shot 61.2 from the field and 75.5 percent from the foul line.
Her 6-foot-4 frame has helped hold teams to 33.9 percent on 2-point shots, a measure of interior defense. Last year, opponents shot 38.4 percent on 2-point shots.
Before then, opponents shot 41.8 and 42.2 percent on 2-point shots in the previous two seasons.
"One thing that I noticed early on about Kate is that -- and this is why she doesn't get into foul trouble -- is she doesn't swing," Hobson said.
"That also keeps the ball in the near vicinity when she does block it. She just lets the ball comes to her hand.
"You see a lot of people that block that many shots, it seems like about half the games they are in foul trouble. She has only been in foul trouble, in the two years that she has been here, a couple of times."
Last year, Lehman averaged 1.68 blocks per foul. Her "block recovery rate" -- the percentage of blocks that Fort Hays recovers -- was 60.4 percent. Lehman recovered 28.1 percent of her own blocks. This season, Lehman has averaged 3.15 blocks per foul and leads Division II in blocks per game. FHSU has recovered 68.3 percent of her blocks. Lehman has recovered 34.1 percent of her own blocks.
Those numbers are outstanding.
Division II block recovery and block per foul statistics aren't available. However, the block recovery rate for NBA players is 57 percent, according to basketballreference.com.
Last winter, University of Kentucky's Anthony Davis, the national player of the year, had 58.4 percent of his blocks recovered by the Wildcats, according to Sports Illustrated's Luke Winn.
This season, University of Kansas has recovered Jeff Withey's blocks 73.8 percent of the time, a percentage that Winn calls "an insanely good number."
Withey leads the country with 4.9 blocks per foul, easily the country's best rate. Lehman would rank No. 2 in NCAA Division I in blocks per foul.
"She doesn't swing," Hobson said.
"There is no follow through there. It's also doesn't send the ball very far when she does block it, so she is catching a lot of them. It's not only impressive, it's demoralizing (for opponents)."