Tigers at midway point in MIAA
By CONOR NICHOLL
From Jan. 3 to Jan. 19, 2011, the Fort Hays State University women's basketball team went 1-5. In all other contests, the Tigers were 11-9.
From Jan. 2 to Jan. 18, 2012, the Tigers finished 3-3. In all other contests, the Tigers were 17-6.
From Jan. 3 to Jan. 26, 2013, FHSU went 2-5. In all other games, it was 20-2.
This season, that trend has improved, but the Tigers have still dropped two road games. From Jan. 4 to Jan. 16, FHSU is 4-2, including a frustrating 49-48 road loss to Northeastern State University, a .500 team, last Saturday. In all other games, the Tigers are 8-1.
"It's a tough little stretch in here, but there is a reason," coach Tony Hobson said. "Last year, we were playing all the ranked teams on the road. Northeastern, Emporia was in that stretch - part of it is who you play. I think the biggest part of it is just being on the road."
This season the Tigers lost in early December at University of Central Missouri, a top-10 team. Then FHSU fell at Missouri Southern State University on Jan. 4 before it reeled off four straight victories. The loss on Saturday yielded a season-low in points.
"I would take 4-2 when you are on the road for four out of six of those games," Hobson said. "I would take that most times. In this case, I don't accept that, because we should be one better."
In addition to the multiple road games at the start of each calendar year, FHSU has received no help because of the ever-changing MIAA schedule. The last couple of seasons, the basketball schedule is different because of teams leaving and adding to the conference. The tweaks have included a one-year "pod system," and this season's east/west lineup.
"It seems like we are on the short end of the stick every year," Hobson said.
FHSU has already made its two longest road trips of the season -- in the last three weeks -- with three-day, two-city travels through Missouri Southern and Southwest Baptist (Mo.) University and University of Central Oklahoma and Northeastern last weekend.
This week is the halfway point in MIAA play. Fort Hays, 12-3 and ranked No. 24 in NCAA Division II, will play its final non-conference game Thursday night against South Dakota School of Mines at Gross Memorial Coliseum. The Hardrockers (6-11) were added to the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference on Monday, but remain without an athletic director. No Mines player averages double figures. Start time is 5:30 p.m.
Tiger junior center Kate Lehman collected MIAA Player of the Week honors for the third time this season and also reached the 1,000 point club when she tallied 18 last Thursday against University of Central Oklahoma. Lehman averages 15.8 points and 11.6 rebounds with a nation-best 5.3 blocks per contest. She led the team with 19 points against NSU, but had to play 32 minutes, her most in a non-overtime game this season because of struggling bench play.
"We didn't get very good bench play today and we were really tired at the end of the game, and part of the reason is (the reserves) were not in there for very long, because I am not going to watch people go half speed and not play hard," Hobson said.
The Northeastern loss marked the second straight year a ranked FHSU team went to Tahlequah, Okla. and struggled in a slow-paced, low-scoring game. On Jan. 3, 2013, FHSU was 10-0, but had just 64 possessions and lost 54-44, its second-fewest points of the season. On Saturday, the Tigers had just 60 possessions and shot 50 percent (9 of 18) from the free throw line.
"Our game here last year was kind of a similar type of score," NSU coach Randy Gipson said. "I guess that's what kind of ends up being the case. ... I like to think that we defended well to make them take a little more time than what they wanted to in their half court offense."
After Mines, the Tigers travel to Pittsburg State University on Saturday, the seventh road game in the first 10 MIAA games.
Pittsburg State and Missouri Southern are receiving votes nationally. Emporia State University stands No. 2 in the country and Central Missouri is at No. 8.
Pittsburg State plays tonight instead of Thursday and will have more rest than FHSU. Many times this season, the Tigers have played on Thursday and Saturday. The Saturday opponent didn't have a game Thursday.
"This year, we are play 10 out of 19 away instead of having that extra home game," Hobson said. "We are the lone wolf. When we play cross section -- meaning when we play the teams out of the east -- every game, they have a bye the week before."