Loper women's basketball upset fifth-ranked Fort Hays State

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KEARNEY, Neb. (KSNB) - The Nebraska-Kearney women's basketball got 16 rebounds and 12 points from sophomore guard Klaire Kirsch and closed on a 28-8 run to stun No. 5 Fort Hays State, 73-65, Tuesday night at the Health & Sports Center.

This was the MIAA opener for both teams and the 93rd all-time meeting between the Lopers (7-0) and rival Tigers (6-1). UNK doesn't have time to celebrate as it visits longtime MIAA power Emporia State (5-2) on Thursday night.

To record its first win over a top five team since an 82-76 decision at Missouri Western State in January 2016, UNK had to overcome a 57-45 deficit with just 7:48 to play. The Lopers held the lead for nearly 17 minutes in the first half but the Tigers, coming off a 32-2 campaign, came out strong in the third quarter to the tune of a 24-11 run. They were also strong in the opening moments of the fourth before a barrage of Loper threes.

"When we were down 12 it was one of those moments where we had to make a move. Hays isn't easy to score on … I thought our team kept its composure and kind of played one possession at a time instead of trying to get it back all at once," Loper head coach Carrie Eighmey said. "We had some kids step up and make some big plays. Maegan (Holt) hit a couple of key threes in that late stretch, Aspen (Jansa) hit a big three, and Madison (Dreckman) as a freshman did some nice things." Elisa Backes

Against one of Division II's top defensive teams, UNK finished 11 of 24 from behind the arc and hit three straight bombs to trim the deficit to three, 57-54, by the six minute mark. Hays managed to its lead back to four but UNK finally tied things at 60 thanks to a jumper in the paint by Iowa sophomore Maegan Holt.

While the Lopers shot an even 50% (8 of 16) from the field over the final 10 minutes, Hays cooled off to 31% (6 of 19). That included a 0 of 5 effort from downtown with Kearney fittingly taking the lead for good on a top of the key triple by Kansas sophomore forward Elisa Backes. That made it 63-60 with 2:27 left.

Overall UNK was just 14 of 22 at the line (64%) but was plus seven on the glass, got 20 bench points and held Hays to an overall 3 of 16 effort from the arc. Finally nine different played scored.

"This is a great way to kick it off and have a good start to the conference season," Eighmey said. "I think our balance helps us. We have a lot of kids that can score in a lot of different ways. It makes it a little bit easier when the defense can't key in on just one or two players."

Kirsch's second career double double featured 13 defensive caroms and a 3 of 3 effort from triple land in the first half. The rebound total is just two shy of the school record and the most rebounds by a Loper in the MIAA era (2012-present).

Next grad transfer and point guard Haley Simental (Pueblo West, Colo.) had 11 of her 15 points in the second half with Holt also strong over the final minutes (12 points, two assists & two rebounds). Finally Backes had eight points, five boards and two dimes with Iowa freshman reserve post Madison Dreckman at six points and three rebounds.

"It's an excited team. I think after what happened last year against Hays at home (ahead 20 late third quarter and lose in overtime) … it was a game where our kids felt like they let it slip away. So it's a big win in that regard," Eighmey said. "It's a good win but at the same time it's a long season."

Hays got 20 points from Oklahoma State transfer Jaden Hobbs and a combined 26 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks from forward Lanie Page and Belle Barbieri.