The Fort Hays State women will get just one shot at defending national champion Central Missouri in the regular season, so the Tigers are looking to make it count.
The No. 15-ranked Jennies will play host to the No. 5-ranked Tigers at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the UCM Multipurpose Building in FHSU’s first conference road game of the season.
The Tigers enter 11-0 overall and 2-0 in MIAA play, marking their best start in program history while Central Missouri, which returned three starters off last year’s title team, sits 8-2 overall and 1-1 in the MIAA.
“They’ll be loaded for us. They’ll be really looking forward to that game,” FHSU coach Tony Hobson said. “It’s an important game for us because in our brilliant scheduling in the MIAA for basketball, we only get to play them once. It’s on the road again; we didn’t get to play them here last year.
“Right now, going into the new year, if you look at the five teams getting votes in the top 25, four of them are from the west division, so we’re playing all those games. We have a much tougher schedule than anybody for the east. So you have to really buckle down. You can’t lose very many, because it’s so unbalanced on the women’s side right now.”
The game will mark the return from the holiday break for the Jennies, who closed 2018 with a 74-71 win over Southern Indiana. Their two losses were on the road, falling in double overtime to St. Mary’s (Texas), 101-97, on Nov. 23 and taking a 62-57 loss at Washburn on Dec. 8.
“We have to take advantage of going there and just not back down and just get ready to play,” Hobson said. “It should be a really good battle.”
UCM is led by the trio of Paige Redmond, Morgan Fleming and Megan Skaggs. Redmond is averaging a team-high 16.1 points while Fleming and Skaggs are adding 15 and 14.4 points per game, respectively.
Lanie Page leads the Tigers with 12.5 points while Tatyana Legette is averaging 12.1 points and 7.9 rebounds. Kacey Kennett is adding 11 points per game.
It will be a rematch of last year’s NCAA Tournament second round matchup, which the Jennies won 66-59 on the way to the national title.
The Tigers, who have MIAA wins over Emporia State and Nebraska-Kearney, will return to conference play after picking up an 84-41 win over Bethany on Sunday.
“We’ve been playing well so far, so I’m excited to see how we matchup with (UCM) this year,” FHSU junior forward Belle Barbieri.
The FHSU-UCM men’s game will follow at 7:30 p.m., with the Tigers looking to end its recent road struggles.
Fort Hays (8-3, 2-0 MIAA) went just 2-8 in true road games last season and the Tigers are 0-3 away from Gross Memorial Coliseum this year.
“We haven’t been a good road team as of late,” FHSU men’s coach Mark Johnson said. “We’re going to have to go there and play really hard, make some shots and really guard them for 40 minutes.”
The Mules are off to a rocky start, sitting 7-4 overall and 0-2 in MIAA play with road losses to Southwest Baptist and Washburn.
Jafar Kinsey leads UCM with 12.9 points while Blake Spellman averages 11.1 points and Matt Wilkinson is adding 10.3 points per game. Brady Werth is putting up a team-high 15.5 points per game with Marcus Cooper averaging 14 and Aaron Nicholson 11.4.
“They shoot the ball pretty well. It’s a slow-down game at times,” Johnson said. “They really guard you well and take care of the ball. I would be surprised if it’s a high-scoring game. They’re going to try and control the possessions, I think.”