TCU left Colorado State, after losing in double overtime, with the feeling that they could play with any team in the Mountain West Conference.
It may be time to revise those expectations.
The Horned Frogs were thoroughly roughed up Wednesday by No. 14 UNLV, 101-78, in front of 14,126 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The Rebels (17-3, 1-1 in the MWC), who were likely still fuming from a conference-opening loss at San Diego State Saturday, exploded out of the gate to take a 19-2 lead four minutes in. UNLV made 11 of its first 13 shots, including six 3-pointers. Most of them came in transition with TCU defenders no where close.
Chace Stanback hit two 3s on assists from Anthony Marshall in the first 1:25 of the game as the Rebels took an 8-0 lead. Stanback finished with 21; Marshall finished with a game-high 27 points and nine assists.
“With all good shooters, the worst thing you can do is let them get going early in the game,” TCU coach Jim Christian said. “You can’t let them get that comfortable and get behind like that early in the game. We knew coming in they shot better at home. They still had to make the shots so I give them credit.”
The Rebels eventually cooled off and the Frogs, who trailed by as much as 21 in the first half, showed similar grit as they did in their MWC opener Saturday at Colorado State. J.R. Cadot, sensing a foul coming, forced up a 3-point attempt and sank all three free throws. After the Rebels threw it away, Thorns hit a 3-pointer to cut UNLV’s lead to 15 with just under 10 minutes to play in the half.
But the Rebels quickly responded. Marshall hit a 3 from the top of the key and then a pull-up jumper to stretch the lead back to 20. Marshall made five of eight shots for 11 points in the first half. Stanback was 4 of 6 from the field in the first half and led the Rebels with 13 first-half points.
TCU closed the deficit to 13 with a 7-2 run, which included a 3-pointer from Kyan Anderson with 4:26 left in the half. Anderson scored a career-high 20 points to lead the Frogs (10-7, 0-2). Adrick McKinney scored a career-high 16 points and Amric Fields added 12.
The momentum swung back to the Rebels, though, when J.R. Cadot was beaten for a defensive rebound by Marshall, who was fouled on the play. Marshall quickly scored on a lay up and UNLV was back up by as much as 19 on Stanback’s third 3-pointer of the half.
“He didn’t block out and then fouled him on the ensuing play,” Christian said of Cadot. “That’s a senior for us and we can’t make those kinds of plays when you’re fighting your way back into the game.”
TCU is back home for two games starting with Boise State at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum. The Frogs host Air Force at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.
If defense in the paint was the problem at Colorado State, it was the perimeter defense that burned the Frogs Wednesday.
“We couldn’t have done a worse job at that,” Christian said. “We were two seconds too late. With those guys you have to be there when the ball arrives. They got going and [UNLV] played really, really well tonight so I give them full credit. I take full blame because we have to find a way to get through to our team until they all understand the importance of guarding. I think we did some really good things on offense, but we have to guard to have a chance to win in this league.”
TCU trailed by as much as 27 in the second half as the Rebels shot 57.8 percent for the game, including 52.4 percent from 3-point range.
“I think it was just a lack of understanding what the game plan was,” said Anderson, who attended North Crowley High School. “We just didn’t come out and do it. We didn’t listen and do what the coaches asked of us. The momentum changed and we didn’t have an answer for them.”
Christian has repeatedly said that TCU must play high-level defense to succeed in the MWC. Through their first two conference games defense has been the Frogs’ weakness.
“We probably practiced harder on Monday than we played the first 10 minutes of this game and we’ve got to change that,” Christian said. “We knew they were going to come out ready to play and we needed to meet that in the first five minutes.”