KANSAS CITY, Mo. – There was some disappointment for Fort Hays State University women’s basketball coach Tony Hobson.
Not from the outcome of Friday’s MIAA tournament opener against Pittsburg State.
No, it was because the longtime Tiger coach believed senior Kacey Kennett should have been on the conference’s all-defensive team this season.
Hobson had good reason to believe that, and Kennett’s defensive performance did nothing but solidify his point in FHSU’s 69-53 victory over the Gorillas at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo.
Her defense was a big reason Pitt State’s top scorer this season, Tristan Gegg, struggled shooting and finished with only three points on 1 of 11 shooting after averaging more than 17 points a game this season.
“I thought it was a shame Kacey didn’t make the all-defensive team in the conference because she has held on to some pretty good shooters, pretty good scorers all season,” Hobson said. “She did a really good job on her today. … She’s going to get her shots. You’re not going to keep her from shooting. You just have to make them as tough as you can. I thought everyone played well. We gave up a few back-cuts, but otherwise played pretty well.”
Fort Hays’ defense shined brightly in the lights of the famed auditorium in downtown K.C. The Tigers allowed Pitt State to shoot only 35% from the field as a team, and it helped propel FHSU into Saturday’s noon semifinal against top-seeded Central Missouri.
“She’s always a good shooter,” Kennett said about Gegg. “I played with here in AAU ball, so I know her pretty well. You just have to stay up on her and make her take the tough shots. She’s going to get shots up, no matter how good you guard her. It’s just a matter of taking the opportunity to make her force a little bit.”
Kennett’s offense wasn’t too shabby either. She finished with 19 points – including a 4-of-7 effort from long range – and eight rebounds.
“She’s a good player and hits big shots for us when we need it,” said senior Belle Barbieri, who finished with 14 points and nine rebounds. “She does always come in clutch from the 3-point line. That’s nice to have.”
What also was nice to have Friday for the Tigers was the sharp outside shooting of Madison Mittie off the bench. She hit a pair of 3-pointers in the third quarter, the final one starting a 26-10 run FHSU would use the close out the game. The triple gave the Tigers a 46-43 advantage with 2:39 to play in the quarter.
“Maddie came off the bench and hit a couple 3’s to spark us when we were struggling,” said Hobson, whose team held Pitt State to 21 points below its season average in scoring. “They had made a good run at us, and we were down at least three. … She hit a couple shots, then Kacey hit another one. We just had some key possessions where the ball just went in the hole. That’s what we were lacking. We probably lost three games this year to really good teams because at the right time we couldn’t get one to fall. Taylor (Rolfs) is usually a pretty reliable shooter but just couldn’t hit anything today. But Maddie hit a couple, and (Whitney) Randall played well.”
Fort Hays (23-6) led 16-11 after the first quarter and 29-23 at halftime. After falling behind by three twice in the third quarter, the Tigers were able to rebound for a 51-45 lead entering the final period.
“Good defense and rebounding. That’s where it all starts,” Barbieri said. “I think, obviously, we hit some big shots, but it all starts with defense and rebounding. We did that well tonight.”
The lead would grow to 53-45 before Pitt State (17-11) finally scored. The Gorillas would come as close as four points, only to see FHSU turn things up on both ends – eventually pushing the lead to as many as 16.
“I think we got a few defensive stops in a row, and our good defense led to good offense,” said Jaden Hobbs, who finished with seven points and a team-high six assists. “I think that’s what helped us pull away from them. Just knowing if we would lose, we could be done for the (regional) tournament gave us the power to fight through. We just never gave up.”
Barbieri controlled the paint in the final quarter, especially after drawing the fifth foul on Athena Alvarado with nearly eight minutes left in the game.
“I knew they weren’t as strong without her in there, especially down low,” Barbieri said. “She’s pretty quick, pretty athletic. So my focus in the game was just going at her. In the second half, I felt I did that more. But it’s big for us to have her out of the game. She’s such a good player.”
Whitney Randall also scored in double figures with 16 points.
Kaylee DaMitz led Pitt State with 20 points, and Maya Williams added 12. But the Gorillas shot only 31% from the floor in the final period, including an 0-for-5 performance from 3-point range.
“A lot of times on these early games when you’re playing two or three hours earlier than normal, if you have some morning people on your team, they can get up and get ready and a lot of times one team or the other can have a slow start,” Hobson said. “I thought we played really well. Defensively, we were as good as we have been all year against a very talented team offensively. They can really score. They have as good of guards as there is in the league, and their four and five man isn’t any slouch either. I thought top to bottom we played very well defensively and rebounded the ball well enough. We did give up a few second shots, but it wasn’t anything that killed us. We played well.”