KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Throughout the regular season, the Fort Hays State women sat atop the standings, and everyone else was playing for second. That may be true for the MIAA Tournament as well.
Washburn, one of five teams that spent the past couple of months in a close race for the No. 2 seed, likely saw its season end at the hands of the runaway conference champions in the MIAA semifinals.
The Tigers made nine of their first 11 3-point attempts and led by as many as 31 in a 75-48 win Saturday at Municipal Auditorium. With it’s 14th consecutive victory, Fort Hays State (29-1) advances to a championship matchup against Central Missouri at 3:15 p.m. Sunday.
“The first half was really good,” said Fort Hays coach Tony Hobson, whose team held WU to a season-low 17 field goals and 27 rebounds. “Whoever’s open usually ends up with the ball, and tonight, they were going in for a lot of people. Our defense was solid, and I thought we played with a real edge in the first half.”
Tatyana Legette, the Topeka Seaman product who was named MIAA player of the year earlier this week, only scored six points on 2 of 8 shooting, but her Tiger teammates did enough damage that she could still sit out for six of the blowout’s final seven minutes.
Taylor Rolfs, Whitney Clampitt and Kacey Kennett combined to go 7-for-7 behind the arc in the first half for a 43-18 lead at the break. To give an indication of how the night went for both teams, Kennett threw up a “Why not?” 3-pointer from beyond NBA range to end the first quarter, and it dropped cleanly through the net to double up WU, 26-13.
“A luxury is, our team doesn’t force or take bad shots because we know everyone out there can score,” Hobson said. “Whitney came off the bench and lit it up and played really well offensively. That’s how you get to 29-1, not just one kid. Have a group who can come in and play every night.”
The lead expanded in a 17-5 second quarter, and the Tigers went into halftime shooting 16 of 32, compared to the Ichabods’ 6 of 26 start from the field. Fort Hays also enjoyed a 26-10 first-half rebounding advantage, and Belle Barbieri finished with 13 of the team’s 47 boards.
“It takes a little pressure off when every fourth miss, you get the rebound,” Hobson said. “Belle is just relentless on the glass, and we know Tatyana can rebound as well. We had 15 (offensive rebounds), they had seven. When you score on three or four of those, that’s an extra eight points. We have a decided advantage, and we have to use that.”
The Tigers’ lead peaked at 49-18 three minutes after halftime. WU responded with a 14-2 run to make it 51-32 with 2:33 left in the third quarter, but the late offensive spurt wasn’t enough to make Fort Hays nervous in the second half.
Five players scored in double-figures for the Tigers, whose bench outscored WU’s 23-6. Wamego product Lanie Page led Fort Hays with 15 points, Clampitt 12 and Rolfs 11.
“Our shots were falling a little bit last game,” Page said, “but just right off the bats our shots were falling. If your shot’s falling, everything’s good, so we felt really comfortable after our shots were going in.”
Blue led WU with 15 in what was likely her final collegiate game. Reagan Phelan added 11, but WU scored only 22 more points total, spread between four players. It’s doubtful WU, which dropped out of the Central Region’s top 10 this week, can climb the three spots it needs to reach the top eight and earn an NCAA Tournament bid.