BY MAKENNA ALLEN
Tiger women’s basketball returned to Gross Memorial Coliseum Thursday evening. FHSU stormed back into Hays with a 74-49 victory over the Northwest Missouri State University Bearcats. Thanks to a strong offensive effort, the Tigers never trailed throughout the course of the game.
After an especially strong first quarter during which the Tigers shot 64.3% from the field and 62.5% from beyond the three-point arc, the team ultimately averaged 48.1% and 45.0% in these same areas. Additionally, Fort Hays made 15 of 18 free throws throughout the night. This 83.3% figure proved to be a great improvement from earlier in the season.
The team’s hot performance for the evening began just seconds into the first quarter when senior guard, Whitney Randall, recorded the first points of the game with an open three-pointer. From there, the Tigers put together a string of 11 unanswered points. NWMSU eventually cut the lead to five points after a 6-0 run.
However, the Tigers extended their lead for good when senior guard Jaden Hobbs started to rain threes. As the OSU transfer found her groove, she helped the Tigers to their greatest number of points scored during the first quarter of any game this season.
For Randall, this strong start was an important confidence-boost for the Tiger team that has suffered two recent losses.
“We were coming off a couple of losses so we knew that we needed to get the ball rolling and get some confidence,” Randall said. “We came out and we were ready to go. We played really hard and I was proud of everyone’s effort tonight.”
This effort and momentum continued into the second quarter and until a buzzer-beating three-pointer from Hobbs that took the Tigers into halftime with a 44-24 lead. Throughout the first half, Hobbs recorded 12-points and was 4-4 from beyond the arc. Hobbs was not the only Tiger to find scoring success here as Randall also went 3-4 from beyond the arc during the first half.
Though this pair of seniors led the Tigers through a strong first half, freshman forward, Olivia Hollenbeck, contributed 10 points of her own to the team’s overall score.
A pair of free throws and yet another three-pointer from Hobbs gave the Tigers a 25-point lead early in the second half. Though the Bearcats did not score until nearly half of the third quarter had expired, the Tigers soon saw a bit of a dry spell during which they did not score for two-minutes. However, Hollenbeck and Randall sank a combination of four free-throws in order to extend the Tiger lead to 28-points.
By the time the clock ran down on the third quarter, the Tigers held the lead at 26-points. The significant Tiger advantage headed into the game’s final quarter allowed Hobson to rest his starters in preparation for their second game of the weekend against Missouri Western. This opportunity also allowed younger players to gain essential experience on the court.
“It’s nice to see our bench get in there and not only get in there to play but it wasn’t slop time,” head coach, Tony Hobson said. “They looked good. They executed our offense and defensively, they were really sound.”
Randall added to this sentiment and suggested the benefits of the additional rest for her team in preparing to play again this weekend.
“I think it’s great because it gives people more of a rest for Saturday’s game,” Randall said. “It’s really hard when people are playing 40 minutes Thursday and then have to go play 40 minutes Saturday. So when everyone is playing considerable minutes, it’s great for the team overall.”
Even while the starters sat on the bench during the fourth quarter, the Tigers managed to dominate the Bearcats. Thanks to a combined effort by junior guard, Cydney Bergmann, and freshman forward, Jessie Sallach, the Tigers saw their greatest lead of the game at 34-points.
While the Fort Hays lead at the final buzzer was 74-49, the high-scoring game proved a team effort as three Tigers scored in the double digits. Among those players was Randall who led the team with 18-points. Hobbs trailed close behind, recording 17-points and going 5-7 from behind the three-point arc. Hollenbeck knocked down 12-points of her own and Sallach recorded eight.
While the Tigers dominated in points scored, they also excelled when it came to turnovers. In a correction from their two losses this season, the Tigers had a season-low eight turnovers while they forced 15 from the Bearcats.
Ultimately, Hobson was pleased with his team’s performance as a group.
“We dictated the tempo like crazy in that game,” Hobson said. “We tried to speed them up a little bit offensively and make them work a little bit to get the ball up the floor. In the open court, I thought we pushed it well at them and really just got the ball where it needed to go and got some good shots out of it. It helps when you shoot the ball better from the three. We just had it clicking.”
With this second-straight win, the Tigers will prepare for their second opponent this weekend. The Tigers will take on the 2-7 Missouri Western Griffons who fell to Nebraska-Kearney this evening. Tip-off is slated for 2:00 p.m. on Saturday in Gross Memorial Coliseum.