TCU women’s basketball seniors finding identity on defense

TCU Horned Frogs Chelsea Prince (4) and Jada Butts (15) attempt a steal Jan. 7 against Iowa State. Prince leads the Big 12 with 3.25 steals per game.
TCU Horned Frogs Chelsea Prince (4) and Jada Butts (15) attempt a steal Jan. 7 against Iowa State. Prince leads the Big 12 with 3.25 steals per game. Star-Telegram

Before she accepted the job, first-year women’s basketball coach Raegan Pebley knew her defense would work with TCU’s personnel.

With one regular season game left, her players have proven her right, especially senior forward Chelsea Prince and senior guard Donielle Breaux.

Prince, who is the first line of defense on top of TCU’s aggressive press, leads the Big 12 in steals with 91, a full 17 ahead of the second place, averaging 3.25 per game.

She had five Saturday in the first half against Kansas State.

“I think that within this system I get to be myself again,” Prince said. “I get to be that Chelsea I was in high school and not limited and I can just do me.”

She was well on her way to those marks during her junior campaign in Jeff Mittie’s 2-3 defense, leading the Big 12 with 2.4 steals per game during the conference schedule.

Her role as the quarterback of TCU’s defense and the support of her coaching staff has changed her life for the better.

“Without the people around me, I think that I would be a very low self-esteem person,” Prince said. “For them to look up to me, it’s really amazing because I never thought I would be that person.”

Pebley said there’s never a game where Chelsea is playing outstanding defense that the team doesn’t follow suit.

That has certainly aided an already outstanding defender, Breaux, from raising her game to a league-high level as well.

With 45 swipes of her own, Breaux ranks ninth in the conference, averaging 1.61 per game.

As an off-ball specialist, Breaux uses good footwork and a knack for physical play to deny passes.

Just like with Prince, Pebley’s new system takes Breaux back to the style of play she grew up learning.

“It excited me a lot just because, growing up, that’s how I played,” Breaux said. “We were a pressing team. We were a fast paced team. With the new system, coach really talked to us about how we’re so athletic and we have long arms and stuff. It’s easier for us to get into the passing lanes and stuff like that. We adjusted to it really well.”

For the vast majority of minutes this year, Pebley has used a mostly position-less set, which can create offensive miss matches in the Horned Frogs’ favor. However, it also matches smaller, guard-like players to match up against much taller opponents.

Breaux has set herself apart as a 5-foot-10 athlete who can defend players much taller than her.

Her versatility certainly showed in TCU’s trip to Baylor, which saw the Horned Frogs trailing the Bears by 11 at the half, their smallest halftime deficit to Baylor since they joined the Big 12.

Breaux made two steals and tallied 14 points matched against Baylor’s posts, all three of whom are taller than 6-foot-2.

“I think Dee is a very tough, mentally tough basketball player,” Pebley said. “She isn’t afraid to get physical as well. She really puts her body on the line quite a bit.”

TCU’s defense will be on showcase as the Horned Frogs (17-11, 9-8 in Big 12) close the regular season Tuesday in Austin, battling Texas (19-9, 8-9 in Big 12) for prime seeding in the Big 12 tournament.

It’s that spark that Prince and Breaux provide that will push TCU to possibly its highest Big 12 Tournament seeding since joining the league.

“This is a time to get your team going. This is a time to find that run,” Prince said.

TCU women vs. Texas

7 p.m., Tuesday, Longhorn Network

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