HAYS -- After trailing by as many as 14 in the third quarter, the 23rd-ranked Fort Hays State women's basketball team closed within one midway through the final frame, but the Central Oklahoma Bronchos kept their cool down the stretch to steal a 77-66 win Saturday.
The Tigers move to 17-5 overall and 8-5 in MIAA play, while the Bronchos improve to 16-7 on the year and 10-5 in league action.
The Tiger defense came out of the gates on fire, holding UCO scoreless for more than five minutes to open the game. Fort Hays State led by as many as seven late in the quarter after a layup from Hailey Walker, but the Bronchos closed the quarter on a 6-0 run to cut within one, 12-11. Both teams hit just 25 percent from the floor during the first 10 minutes of action.
Central Oklahoma turned things around in the second quarter, hitting 8-of-18 from the floor to take a 34-29 lead into the locker room. A layup from Taylor Rolfs pushed the Tiger lead to 22-16 three minutes into the frame before UCO went on another run, scoring 10-straight points behind a pair of 3-pointers to take the lead for good.
An early 3-pointer from Rolfs and a layup from Whitney Randall helped the Tigers quickly close within two in the third quarter, 36-34, before UCO really caught fire. The Bronchos buried five-straight 3-pointers over the next three and a half minutes, including four makes from sophomore Clary Donica, to storm in front by 14, 53-39. Fort Hays State responded with a 7-0 run to close the quarter, trimming the deficit to 53-46 with 10 minutes to play.
After trading buckets early in the fourth quarter, the Tigers made another big run over the heart of the frame to close within one. The Black and Gold scored on four out of five possessions during the two-minute stretch while forcing five consecutive Broncho turnovers on the other end.
Rolfs opened things with a jumper in the lane before Kacey Kennett made a steal on the defensive end. Belle Barbieri dropped in a layup to help the Tigers close within five, 62-57, followed by two Kennett free throws one minute later to make it a one-possession game. Rolfs then came up with a steal on the defensive end before Cydney Bergmann made a stick-back layup to cut within one with 3:47 to play.
The Tigers forced another turnover to get the ball back with a chance to take the lead, but FHSU lost the ball out of bounds. After allowing Fort Hays State back into the game, the Bronchos were nearly perfect down the stretch, hitting 4-of-4 from the floor and 7-of-7 from the free-throw line while turning the ball over just once to finish the game on a 15-5 run.
Fort Hays State hit just 33.3 percent from the floor in the loss (23-of-69), while UCO bounced back from the rough start to shoot 44.3 percent on the day (27-of-61), including a 9-for-16 effort from behind the arc (56.3 percent). The Bronchos grabbed 11 more rebounds, 46-35, but Fort Hays State had a slim edge in second-chance points, 13-10.