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Another tough loss for Tiger women

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

TOPEKA -- Junior center Kate Lehman was asked simply if the Fort Hays State University women's basketball team should be better than a 16-7 record. Lehman quickly responded.

"Oh yeah," she said.

Then, Lehman, in the same frustrated tone she used to describe the Tigers' 74-65 loss to Washburn University on Wednesday night at Lee Arena, quickly reviewed several games FHSU shouldn't have lost. Lehman named a one-point road defeat to Northeastern State (Okla.) University on Jan. 18 and a three-point road loss to Emporia State University on Feb. 8.

"We should never have lost to Northeastern, we shouldn't have lost to Emporia, we shouldn't have lost this game," Lehman said. "We should be sitting three more wins."

As well, FHSU fell by five points at Missouri Southern State University on Jan. 4 and by four at home to Pittsburg State University last Saturday. FHSU is 2-5 in games decided in the final minutes.

"People are frustrated, because they feel like we are good enough to beat these teams, and we are," Tiger coach Tony Hobson said. "I don't ever want them to not be frustrated. I hope everybody in that locker room is as frustrated as Kate. We are probably not winning some of these games that we have a chance to. We are playing good teams. We are not playing chopped liver here."

After the PSU loss, FHSU fell out of the top 25, but was still receiving votes in the national poll this week. FHSU dropped to 16-7, 9-7 MIAA, while Washburn moved to 16-8, 11-6 MIAA.

On Wednesday, the Tigers stood No. 10 in the first Central Region poll; top eight reach the NCAA Division II tournament.  FHSU stands sixth in the league.

"You have got to be better than that," Hobson said. "Good teams win the close games, and that's the difference for us from tied for first or ... in sixth. We have to know more about the time of the game and the situation of the game, and our basketball IQ needs to go up."

Wednesday's defeat leaves the Tigers three games back of fourth place -- including a tiebreaker -- with three regular season contests left. Top four earn a first round tournament bye.  The Tigers haven't won at Washburn since 1994-95.

"You have got your work cut out for you," Hobson said. "You have got to really be sharp, and it's encouraging on one hand that we are in all these games and right there to win them, but it's discouraging on the other hand because we are not."

Fort Hays trailed 22-8 with 8 minutes, 49 seconds left in the first half.

"We were screen magnets and our game plan was to go over (screens) and just bust over them and we didn't," Lehman, who finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds, said. "They are going to hit them when we leave them wide open."

FHSU rallied and had a 34-33 deficit at halftime. Freshman Jill Faxon (15 points) and sophomore Chelsea Mason (13 points) each had big games off the bench. FHSU finished with a 39-34 edge on the glass, the first time in Ichabod coach Ron McHenry's 14 years Washburn had been outrebounded in three straight contests.

"That was about as good of basketball as we have played all year," Hobson said of the comeback. "Really executed well, got good shots and got a lot of offensive rebounds."

Fort Hays took its first lead since 5-0 at 48-47 with a Faxon layup with 10:10 left. FHSU led 57-56 with 5:37 remaining, but Washburn quickly went on an 8-0 run, including two 3s.

Lehman said the stretch from approximately the nine to four minute marks hurt the Tigers. FHSU took 3s early in the shot clock and gave up loose rebounds they hadn't allowed all game. Fort Hays had 18 turnovers, including several poor passes to Lehman, often double teamed in the post.

"We need to work on it in practice," Lehman said. "We need to do more drills on that. Early in the game, we need to work on lobbing just so we can do it at the end of the game."

Washburn finished 8 of 18 (44 percent) from beyond the arc, higher than its season average of 31 percent.

Junior Casyn Buchman paced Washburn with 17 points. FHSU will play host to rival University of Nebraska-Kearney on Saturday afternoon.

"Defensively, we gave up too many open 3s, and every time we messed up, they hit it," Hobson said. "Give them some credit. They really shot the ball better from the perimeter than they have been, and that was the difference."