The Fort Hays State women’s basketball team will enter the NCAA Division II Central Regional playing its best defensive basketball of the season after three stingy performances in the MIAA Tournament.
And the Tigers surely will need to continue the trend in their regional opener against one of the nation’s top offensive teams in Southwestern Oklahoma State.
No. 3-seeded Southwestern Oklahoma State (26-4) ranks fourth in Division II in points per game (84) heading into Friday’s noon matchup with the No. 6-seeded Tigers (25-6) in Sioux Falls, S.D.
“They’re very good offensively,” FHSU coach Tony Hobson said. “Their leading scorer (Hailey Tucker) scores about 20 a game and she’s a 6-2 girl that plays on the perimeter and is kind of multi-dimensional. They have a good point guard (Hayden Priddy) and are pretty athletic on the perimeter.
“I think offensively they just look like they have a lot of weapons and can score from a variety of areas.”
Hobson was encouraged by all three of FHSU’s defensive outings during last week’s run at the MIAA Tournament. The Tigers beat Emporia State 57-54 in the quarterfinals and took a 52-46 win over Pittsburg State in the semifinals before falling 58-51 to Lindenwood in the title game.
“When you can hold Pitt to 46, that’s ridiculous," said Hobson, who is guiding the Tigers into the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years. We held Emporia State down there and Lindenwood had 50 points until we started fouling them.
“I think defensively we’re playing about as good as we can. We’re really solid inside and our perimeter defense has improved. Carly (Heim) is a good defender and Taylor Rolfs and Kacey Kennett have really improved defensively from their freshman year, so that gives us more weapons. I like what I see defensively.”
After losing just one game in the first three months of the season, Southwestern Oklahoma State has dropped three three games in the last three weeks. The Bulldogs fell to 78-63 to Harding in the GAC Tournament semifinals last week.
SWOSU finished 20-2 in conference play to win the GAC regular-season crown.
“They just have a really good dribble-drive offense, which is what Pitt had,” Heim said. “It’s just important for us to control them off the dribble, and then just make shots and do our thing.
“It’s nice to play somebody that you don’t know every little thing about, and they don’t know everything about you."
The Tigers are looking to regain their offensive rhythm after going 19 of 64 from the floor and just 2 of 23 from 3-point range in the Lindenwood loss.
“I was pretty happy with the looks we were getting,” Hobson said. “What is an offense for other than to get decent shots? Then you just have to execute and make some of them.”
Second team all-MIAA pick Tatyana Legette leads the Tigers with 13.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. Heim has scored in double figures 13 times in the last 14 games, averaging 14.7 points during that span.
“We need to enjoy the moment and give everything we have,” Heim said, “because it could be our last game of the season and we want to do our senior (Emma Stroyan) good.”
Hobson said he's looking for his leaders to get the Tigers off to a strong start.
“It’s going to be a Friday game at noon and the first game of the tournament,” Hobson said. “I think the key in these things is always: Are you just ready to play? Are you ready to play or is it going to take you a quarter or a quarter and a half to get settled in? The team that is ready to go right off the bat sometimes can get a huge advantage. I think that’s the key, just not letting the time of day your playing or the surroundings get the best of you.”
The winner will move on to Saturday's 5 p.m. semifinal to face the winner of Friday's 2:30 p.m. quarterfinal matchup between No. 7 seed Minnesota State Moorhead (23-5) and No. 2 seed Central Missouri (24-3).
Friday's other quarterfinal games feature host school and No. 1-seeded Augustana (27-3) vs. No. 8-seed UCO (20-12) at 5:30 p.m., and No. 5 seed Northern State (25-5) vs. No. 4-seed Arkansas Tech (26-3) at 8 p.m.