The top two teams in the MIAA women’s basketball standings meet tonight when No. 3 Fort Hays State University travels to No. 5 Missouri Western State for a 5:30 p.m. tip.
The Griffons sit in first with a 17-0 record, including a perfect 11-0 MIAA slate. The Tigers’ (16-1, 10-1) loss to Southwest Baptist in late December is all that separates to two teams. Each has taken a different path to the top of the conference standings, however.
MWSU features the conference’s best scoring offense, averaging north of 85 points per game.
“I think hands down, they’re by far the best offensive team in the league,” FHSU coach Tony Hobson said. “They can score from every position in a variety of ways, just a lot of tough matchups. Not only that, for a team that is so good one-on-one, which they are, they don’t always play like that. They execute and run sets very well.”
FHSU on the other hand, owns the conference’s best defense, allowing fewer than 55 points per game.
“I think we’re also the toughest defense that they are going to have gone up against,” the FHSU coach said. “We’ll see what gives.”
LaQuinta Jefferson and Sarafina Handy lead the Griffons, and the conference, in different statistical categories. Jefferson, who looks to penetrate, leads the conference with 23.1 points per game on 58.3 percent shooting from the field, also a conference best. Handy, MWSU’s best shooter, is second in the MIAA in three-point percentage (41.8) and free throw percentage (86.9).
“Jefferson’s probably the best player in the conference, and Handy is top 10,” Hobson said. “They’ve got two of the best players. Their other kids are not shabby.”
Taylor Chandler, arguably the Tigers’ best perimeter defender, expects to spend some time guarding each of MWSU’s top scorers. The junior from Wichita hopes to slow Jefferson’s dribble drive and contest Handy’s jumpers.
“It’s one of those things you have to really think about and process in the game,” Chandler said of applying the proper defense depending on her assignment.
In addition to allowing the fewest points, FHSU also leads the MIAA in turnovers forced and assist-to-turnover ratio. Winning the turnover battle and improving on recent shooting performances figure to be important as the Tigers try to hand the Griffons their first loss of the season.
“I think what it will come down to is whether we have the ball go in the basket a little bit,” Hobson said.“We’re going to have to shoot the ball better than we have been to stay with them.”
Chandler said Fort Hays expects the contest between the conference’s top two teams will be a stiff challenge, but she added that she’s also confident when the Tigers play in big games.
“We know it’s going to be a hard-fought game,” Chandler said.
“It’s one of those things, you either have to be ready or you’re going to lose. I feel like when it’s time to step up to the big stages, that’s when we can really buckle down.”