March 12, 2013

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

TCU’s four seniors came up big against Oklahoma in the regular-season finale, but an encore performance is needed in the first round.

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.”

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