The pride on TCU forward Amric Fields' face was undeniable. The sense of accomplishment was palpable from his teammates, as well, as they left their locker room Saturday night after beating No. 18 New Mexico. The Horned Frogs have come a long way from a year ago, and the realization that the program might have turned a corner was a deeply gratifying moment for the players who suffered the agony of last season, when TCU lost its last 13 regular-season games and finished in last place in the Mountain West at 1-15. A year later, the Frogs (17-11, 7-5) will be a game out of first place when they play at 8:30 tonight at Wyoming (19-9, 5-7). TCU has already clinched its first winning season since 2004-05 and likely earned a postseason tournament berth with wins over ranked, and previously ranked, teams UNLV, New Mexico and Virginia. The regular season concludes against No. 21 San Diego State (22-6, 8-4) at 6 p.m. Saturday at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum.
"This time last year we were losing 10 straight games," Fields said after scoring 11 points, including eight in a 48-second burst that helped the Frogs pull away from the Lobos. "It's unreal how it can turn around in a year as long as you buy into the system and everybody plays hard."
Last year's losing streak was the longest for the program in 35 seasons. After the dismissal of several players during the season, TCU won its opening-round game over Wyoming at the MWC tournament. Then the Frogs played No. 8 BYU close until the final minute, perhaps their best-played game of the season. The message was clear from coach Jim Christian and his players that a team-first attitude was the only way forward.
No game this season has exemplified that ideal more than Saturday's win over New Mexico, in which a season-high six Frogs scored in double figures.
"That's the kind of team we are," guard Hank Thorns said. "As long as we get the 'W' it doesn't matter who leads on the stat sheet."
Players have talked about a family atmosphere and the faith they have in each other since before the season began. That hasn't wavered despite gut-wrenching losses at Colorado State in double overtime and in the final seconds at Boise State, and a head-scratching loss at SMU when TCU played without an injured Craig Williams. Each time, TCU has shaken off the defeat and plowed ahead. Some of the resiliency grew out of the adversity the last two years, in which the Frogs won a combined six league games. This is a hardy bunch.
"We stuck together through bad times last season and we were able to convert that over to this season and it helped us," said senior J.R. Cadot, who was selected the MWC player of the week Monday after back-to-back double-doubles.
"I couldn't be more proud of this team," Christian said.
"The only thing you want to see as a coach is your team grow and grow as the year goes on. I think our team has grown, maybe, as much as any team in the country."