After trading buckets back and forth with Nebraska-Kearney for 18 minutes, the Fort Hays State women suddenly found themselves down by 10 at halftime after a furious finish to the half by the Lopers.
From there, UNK held the cold-shooting Tigers at bay, outlasting FHSU 72-67 on Saturday at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
UNK unleashed a 13-0 run over the last 2:29 of the first half to take a 48-38 lead into halftime. The Lopers capped the half with a deep 3-pointer from Madison Dreckman at the buzzer.
Kearney (20-2, 9-2 MIAA) then stretched the lead to 14 with two buckets to begin the second half and FHSU never got closer than four the rest of the way. The loss ended a 32-game regular-season home winning streak for the Tigers.
"I think it really gave them momentum going in, where it had been just back and forth," FHSU coach Tony Hobson said of the Lopers' run at the end of the first half. "I don't know that the game was decided, but it was a big factor with how they finished the first half."
Kearney fended off a couple spurts from the Tigers down the stretch. FHSU cut the deficit to five with 6:09 left on a free throw from Jaden Hobbs and again closed to within five with 3:55 left on a Hobbs jumper. But the Lopers’ lead grew back to 11 with two minutes left.
The Tigers had one last gasp after Cydney Bergmann’s 3-point play made it a four-point game with 16 seconds left before Kearney put it away.
FHSU shot just 37% from the field (22 of 59) while UNK went 27 of 54 from the floor for 50%.
"We just couldn't quite get over that hump," Hobson said. "Just couldn't hit they big shot when we needed it. And give (the Lopers) credit, they did. They shot the ball better than we did and executed offensively."
Kacey Kennett led the Tigers with 22 points while Hobbs added 12 and Belle Barbieri recorded a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds.
The Lopers placed five in double figures, led by 18 from Brooke Carlson, who was joined in double figures by Haley Simental (12), Kelsey Sanger (12), Elisa Backes (11) and Dreckman (10). Simental also dished out six assists.
"They've got a really solid point guard (Simental) that can score, but she doesn't force the issue," Hobson said. "Tonight, it wasn't necessarily about her, but they got it inside and they got us a couple times when we switched and they rolled and got layups.
"She's a lot like Jaden, somebody that can run the offense, shoot it and is a really good passer. Then they have a good complementary bunch that moves well without the ball, and they shoot it good enough and they really defend well."
The Lopers swept the regular-season series against the Tigers, beating FHSU 73-65 in the conference opener in early December.
"I told them after the game, they've beat us twice and right now they're better than us," Hobson said. "We need to look forward and say next time we play them in the conference tournament, possibly, we need to better than them. It's a fine line. A call here, a call there and a made shot, and we could've pulled that one out, but we didn't. There's not a big hill to climb.
"Since we played them last time at Kearney, we lost one of our best players to injury (Lanie Page), and I thought we battled them hard here today. We just didn't make enough shots at important times to win it."
FHSU will play host to Newman on Thursday and Central Oklahoma on Saturday.