Coaches always want their teams playing their best at the end of the regular season.

That’s certainly the case for Missouri Southern’s women’s basketball team. The Lions posted their two best victories of the season last week to give them momentum tonight heading into the MIAA Postseason Tournament.

“The kids are playing with a lot of confidence,” Lions coach Ronnie Ressel said. “With what we did last week with two wins over two really good teams (Washburn 59-51 and Central Oklahoma 67-57), it gives us some confidence that we can play if we come out and play for 40 minutes with the energy and effort we played with our last two games.”

The two victories propelled the Lions (9-13) to the No. 8 seed in the conference tournament, and they battle regular-season champion Fort Hays State (20-2) in a quarterfinal game at 6 p.m. tonight at Gross Memorial Coliseum in Hays.

“Hays is good,” Ressel said. “They have two of the better players in the league in (guard Jaden) Hobbs and (forward) Whitney (Randall). and they are really good at home. It’s going to be a challenge, but we have to come out with confidence and compete on the defensive end. We have to make sure we take care of the basketball and don’t give them easy baskets in transition. The first time we played them we did OK with that, but we put them on the free throw line way too many times (converting 26 of 32 attempts to the Lions’ 7 of 16).”

The Tigers dominated the third quarter in their 70-49 victory over the Lions in January in Joplin, outscoring MSSU 24-9 to break away from a 32-27 halftime lead.

“The third quarter really killed us,” Ressel said. “With eight minutes to go in the quarter, we had already put them on the free throw line. They were shooting two (free throws on every nonoffensive foul) the rest of the quarter, and offensively we missed some shots and didn’t do a good enough job defending to keep them from extending that lead.”

Hobbs finished with 16 points and seven assists to lead the Tigers. Cydney Bergmann and Randall had 13 and 11 points, respectively.

The Lions’ two double-figure scorers both came off the bench — Kaitlin Hunnicutt with 12 and Amaya Johns with 10. MSSU’s starters had only 15 points that night and made 5 of 24 shots.

Defensive ignited the big turnaround for the Lions last week after they had lost four consecutive games by 18 points or more.

“The kids and their character, they knew they were better than what we had played the previous four games,” Ressel said. “They especially believed we were much better defensively. We defended a whole lot better in our last two games, and if our defense is going good, our offense goes better because they have some confidence. We’re getting some stops and getting in transition a little bit, getting into a flow in our offense and getting easier baskets. I think that probably was the biggest thing.”

The Lions also received good production off their bench last week.

“What I liked is all 11 kids who played in the first half gave positive production on the floor,” Ressel said. “They had confidence in themselves, and I had confidence in them.”

Follow Sports Editor Jim Henry on Twitter at @Jim_Henry53.

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