January 31, 2013

TCU men, women cope with 0-for-Big 12 initiations

Basketball programs continue to grind for first Big 12 win.

TCU women's basketball coach Jeff Mittie will bump into men's coach Trent Johnson in the basketball offices occasionally.

They'll share stories about their teams, but more often than not the stories -- the struggles -- are told on their faces in knowing glances.

Both, as you'd expect, detest losing. And neither has done a lot of losing in the past. But their first seasons in the Big 12 have been filled with nothing but losses so far. The men enter their Saturday game at Texas still looking for their first league win. They're 0-7 and still have two games left against No. 1 Kansas among their final 11 regular-season Big 12 games. The women are 0-8 in the league, with 10 regular-season games remaining, including hosting Texas at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum.

Mittie's squad, the youngest he's had at TCU, has had legitimate chances at victory in four of the losses. While encouraging for the coach, those kinds of losses can be tougher for players to handle, as opposed to the 21-point blowout Wednesday at Oklahoma.

"If you get blown out and go to the locker room, that ending was known for a while," Mittie said. "When you have some of the games we've had, those are tough; those are kicks in the gut. Those are hard losses."

For instance, the Frogs had a game-tying shot rim out in the final second in a 3-point loss to Kansas State.

"That hurt and it should hurt," Mittie said. "But our group has responded well in practice. They've come back in and worked hard. I have been pleased with those things."

Same goes for Johnson, who cordially advised the media to refrain from asking questions about whether his team's mental state would waver with the losses mounting after TCU lost to Baylor on Saturday. Johnson never lost more than three consecutive games in four seasons at Stanford. Last season at LSU, he lost three straight games once after bouncing back from two down years. The Tigers lost 14 of their last 15 games, including 10 consecutive Southeastern Conference games in 2010-11. The year before LSU lost its first 12 SEC games.

"I've always prided myself on regardless of who you play, where you play, when you play -- you play as hard as you can and you try to play the game right and be competitive," Johnson said. "Therein lies the ability to maybe win a game, but also playing the best you can play."

Both Johnson and Mittie knew the jump to the Big 12 would be tough, no matter the obstacles. Johnson has played much of the season without three injured starters; Mittie starts three freshmen and a sophomore.

"This is the most difficult of league changes," said Mittie, who had never lost more than four consecutive games in his 14 seasons at TCU. "Some of the other [league] changes were more lateral. This was not a lateral. This took you to the best women's basketball league in the country."

Mittie's teams hadn't lost more than three straight since 2005, when they lost four in a row. TCU's eight-game losing streak is the most since the Frogs lost their last 20 games in 1996, the last season in the Southwest Conference.

You don't have to go that far back for the men, who lost their last 13 regular-season games two seasons ago.

"I guess the thing that has kept me sane is the attitude of our players has been really good," Mittie said. "The thing I pay attention to with a team, whether you're winning or losing, is are they coming in and working? Are they there early? Are they staying late? This basketball team has done those things. So while the process is painful at times, I really feel like this team is going to get better, and I think our future is going to be very good."

Johnson has vowed that the future is bright for his program, too, regardless of the current struggles. He already has three top recruits committed with three more likely still to come, and he'll have the three injured starters back next season.

"I'm not used to losing, but this is different," Johnson said. "I don't think people realize how tough it is to go from one conference to another conference. This team was a lower-level team in the Mountain West. Even the good teams in the Mountain West couldn't come out and just go to town in the Big 12.

"You have to be true to yourself. As much as everybody dwells on winning and losing, this whole thing is about getting better and about being competitive. If you do those things, you're going to be OK. You still have to grind, you have to stay positive, and you have to play every day. That's all you can do."

Stefan Stevenson


Twitter: @FollowtheFrogs

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