TCU needs more senior moments to survive Texas in Big 12 tourney

Posted Wednesday, Mar. 13, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Three questions 1 Another upset? Can TCU add a third upset to its first season in the Big 12? A win Wednesday night against Texas would be the Horned Frogs’ third stunner, despite Texas’ struggles this season. 2 Hot or not? Both Baylor and Texas are coming off wins to end the regular season. Can either sustain the success in Kansas City? The Longhorns face Kansas State in the second round if they can get by TCU on Wednesday. 3 Three-horse race? More than half the Big 12 teams rightly feel as if they could contend for the title, but the three top seeds — KU, KSU and OSU — have the upper hand.
A quick glance at the Big 12 field 1. Kansas (26-5) — The Jayhawks have mostly looked like the top 5 team they are, but have also gone AWOL on several occasions, including a loss to TCU and 23-point loss at Baylor on Saturday. Which KU team will we see this week? 2. Kansas State (25-6) — Despite a 76-70 loss at Oklahoma State to end the regular season, the Wildcats are one of the hottest teams in the conference entering the Big 12 tournament. 3. Oklahoma State (23-7) — The Cowboys are the pick of many to steal the title from either Kansas or Kansas State and for good reason. OSU has played KU well, including a win in Lawrence, and could challenge KSU for being the hottest team at the moment, including the win over the Wildcats on Saturday. 4. Oklahoma (20-10) — Another scary team for the top contenders are the Sooners, who despite their loss at TCU, still have a deep and talented enough roster to hang with any team in the league. 5. Iowa State (21-10) — Just like OU, ISU can give opponents fits with multiple deep threats from any spot on the floor. The Cyclones are rarely blown out and have lost only one game (86-69 to Oklahoma on March 2) by more than 12 points and have lost three times in overtime, including twice to Kansas. 6. Baylor (18-13) — The Bears are coming off an impressive 81-58 victory over Kansas and will need to remain impressive this week to have a shot at an at-large NCAA bid. 7. Texas (15-16) — The Horns have won two in a row for the first time in three months and could secure an NIT bid with a couple of wins this week. 8. West Virginia (13-18) — After winning four times in a five-game stretch to start February, the Mountaineers have lost six consecutive games to end the regular season. 9. Texas Tech (10-19) — They lost to Texas in overtime to end the regular season but may be playing better at the moment than first-round opponent WVU. 10. TCU (11-20) — The Horned Frogs have played two of their best games last week, including a loss at Kansas State and a win over Oklahoma to end the regular-season.

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For much of the last month, TCU’s four seniors have struggled down the stretch in Big 12 play. But the foursome’s spirited home sendoff in Saturday’s regular-season finale victory against Oklahoma was a startling reminder of how well they can play when working together.

The Horned Frogs (11-20), who open the Big 12 tournament against Texas (15-16) at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Sprint Center, had a season-high 20 assists on 27 field goals, including 14 assists on 19 field goals in the first half against the Sooners. The seniors combined to score 40 of the Frogs’ 70 points, a team season-high in Big 12 play. And they did it making 16 of 30 shots and nine assists.

The best example of the senior surge is Connell Crossland, who had 11 points and seven rebounds after struggling the previous five games.

“Sometimes when kids’ backs are against the wall they have a tendency to have more of a sense of urgency and want to listen more,” TCU coach Trent Johnson said. “I think they know their clock is winding down.”

The matchup against the Longhorns, Johnson said, presents the same issues for the Frogs as the entire Big 12 season. TCU will need not only its seniors to play well again, but the entire team needs to play well. If the Frogs can maintain their hot shooting (they’ve shot better than 50 percent in the past two games) they can give Texas a fight. Forward Devonta Abron said he hopes after the two previous games against Texas — both losses — TCU can build on last week’s success.

“It’s tough to beat them — they have good guard play, good [post players] — but we’ve played them two times and now we know what it takes to beat a team,” Abron said. “We’ve been playing great together these last [two] games so we know what it takes, it starts on the defensive end.”

Texas is playing better as well. The Longhorns have won three of their past four and come into the tournament with a two-game winning streak. They’re 5-3 since point guard Myck Kabongo returned to the team after missing 23 games because of an NCAA suspension.

“I would hope we have a chip on our shoulder,” Kabongo said. “I know I have one. Things have not gone our way all season, and we have a chance to rewrite our history book. We can forget about our losing record all season and really come in here and do something special.”

TCU point guard Kyan Anderson’s growth as a team leader showed in the Frogs’ win over OU. Despite coming off a 29-point game, the sophomore from North Crowley High School quickly got his teammates involved and had five assists by halftime. Instead of being the lone offensive threat, he created multiple threats with his passing skills and still finished with 11 points. He’s becoming more vocal on the floor, as Johnson wanted, and shown signs of being the team’s leader.

“You want everybody to play good and play as one,” Anderson said. “Any time you can get someone to contribute, it’s good. And we’re going to need everybody to come out and play their best.”

No one has said that more than Johnson.

“There’s no false confidence in that locker room,” Johnson said. “They know if they don’t play well on all possessions it’s going to get ugly in a hurry. If we don’t get a good game from everybody, we don’t have a lot of chances. It’s real important [for the seniors to play well]. The No. 1 reason is I want them to have a good feeling about themselves whenever their last game is.”

Stefan Stevenson, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @FollowtheFrogs

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