Fort Hays State basketball welcomes in Bearcats
Heading into this season, there was no question in Fort Hays State coach Mark Johnson's mind what the Tigers' toughest stretch would be.
The FHSU men are still firmly in the middle of the most challenging part of their schedule now, coming off three straight road losses.
And while they're happy to return to Gross Memorial Coliseum this week, things won't get a whole lot easier, with the 3-6 Tigers welcoming in No. 3-ranked Northwest Missouri State on Thursday and No. 16 Missouri Western on Saturday.
"In the MIAA, you have that one stretch where you're like, 'Wow, that's a tough stretch," Johnson said. "We're going to have five out of seven on the road and your two home games are Northwest and Missouri Western. So we knew this stretch of our season was going to be the most challenging.
"We just got to play through it. We've got to find a way to be confident. We've got to find a way to play better and we've got to find a way to get a win. ... Even with limited fans, when we're on our home floor that gives us opportunity and a chance to win against anybody. We just need to play well and hopefully do the things necessary to give ourselves a chance."
After returning from break with an 84-76 loss at Missouri Western on Jan. 2, Fort Hays took losses at Central Missouri (71-64) and Lincoln (76-64) last week.
The Tigers have committed 35 turnovers over the last two games as teams have turned up the pressure on FHSU's young backcourt.
"I think as you get further in your season there's more things out there for people to see and watch," Johnson said. "Early in the year — we're a relative young team, new team — they don't really know your personnel. Now you look at it, every time we set ball screens, they're really getting after our guards. They're just not letting them turn the corner or leave them open for threes."
A lack of the depth is also to starting to show for the injury-riddled Tigers, who have an eight-player rotation.
"Sometimes you just need a reset button in a game," Johnson said. "You're struggling, you just need to get out and take a few minutes and regroup, and usually a lot of times you'll see a different performance.
"Right now, at times we really can't do that, with a limited number of guards. ... They're doing a good job, they just need to keep battling through it."
A bright spot in the Tigers' loss to Lincoln on Saturday was freshman Traejon Davis, who scored a career-high 13 points off the bench and hit three 3-pointers.
"We've been looking for someone to do that," Johnson said. "It was nice to see Traejon, off the bench, being able to come in and make some shots. He's worked really hard. He's changed his shot, put in a lot of time and effort. Hopefully that carries over because that gives us a chance."
Northwest Missouri enters Thursday's 7:30 p.m. game with a 6-1 mark. The powerhouse Bearcats saw a 28-game win streak snapped with an 84-82 overtime loss to Washburn last Thursday, but Northwest bounced back with ease, topping Emporia State, 92-71, this past Saturday.
The Bearcats are led by the trio of Trevor Hudgins, Ryan Hawkins and Diego Bernard. Hudgins averages a team-best 20 points and five assists while shooting an eye-popping 56 percent from 3 (23 of 41). Hawkins scores 19.3 points per game while Bernard adds 13.1 per contest.
"The biggest thing we have to do is get inside a little bit," Johnson said. "I feel like they're not real physical up front.
"What they do is they score at such a high rate that you come down offensively and don't run good offense anymore. And then on the defensive end, everybody gets so spread out that you don't have any assembly of team defense. You really have to stay strong in what you're supposed to be doing and not panicking on both ends of the floor."
Tiger women back on track
The Fort Hays State women rebounded nicely after back-to-back losses, utilizing its advantage in the post during Saturday's 85-70 win at Lincoln, improving to 6-2 on the season.
Freshman posts Jessie Sallach and Olivia Hollenbeck combined for 29 points, each turning in career-high outings. Sallach had 16 while Hollenbeck finished with 13.
"I thought we had a decided advantage (in the post)," FHSU coach Tony Hobson said. "A lot of times we like to go inside and really just try to establish ourselves in there. It worked out well. Drew a couple fouls and got to the line. Then Olivia got in a little foul trouble and Jessie came in.
"Especially when (Sallach's) not playing against a lot of size, she's really effective. I'd seen it in practice before, but it was her first kind of little breakout stretch in a game. Hopefully that will get her confidence going."
FHSU senior forward Whitney Randall bounced back from a pair of sub-par offensive games to put up 20 points against Lincoln, going 9 of 15 from the field.
"On Saturday, I thought she kind of let the game come to her," said Hobson, who noted Randall has been fighting through a slight foot injury. "She didn't force stuff the first half. She didn't score much the first half, and then the second half she got a couple early looks and knocked them down and just kind of went with the flow.
"I think with Whitney sometimes she just tries too hard to get things going early, and then if they don't go right, it goes downhill from there. I thought (on Saturday) she just did a better job offensively of letting the game come to her."
Freshman guard Sydney Golladay pulled down a career-high 11 rebounds in the Lincoln win.
"Sydney has such a well-rounded game, she can be really valuable to us without scoring that much," Hobson said. "She rebounds her position great. She can run the point. She's very strong with the ball. It's valuable to have a person like that who can direct the offense when either Jaden (Hobbs) is not in there, or Jaden is commanding some special attention from people and they're trying to get the ball out of her hands."
FHSU has been short-handed because of COVID-19 protocols, but the Tigers expect to be back at full strength for Thursday's 5:30 game against Northwest Missouri with the return of guards Madison Mittie and Emma Ruddle.
Northwest Missouri is 3-3 on the season. The Bearcats haven't played since a 30-point loss to Pittsburg State on Jan. 2. Molly Hartnett leads Northwest with 14.8 points per game.
"They play a good, solid man-to-man defense. They help really well," Hobson said. "It's going to be hard to get to the basket. Seems like whenever your post players get the ball inside they have somebody underneath it.
"The other problem is their guards are big. They run a lot of backdown stuff, just one-on-one backdown, looking for a double team and a kick or just trying to score in there."
Hobson said the Bearcats are a solid all-around team.
"It seems like they have all the bases covered," Hobson said. "If they do have a weakness, it's that they don't have a lot of depth inside. But the way they play, they just try to attack the basket, and then they set their two 3-point shooters on the perimeter. If you help at all they're going to kick and get a shot.
"They've improved. They're .500 in the conference and playing everybody tough. They'll pose some problems for us."