The TCU women’s basketball team set high expectations before its season despite having to learn a new system under a new coaching staff.
No goal was loftier than finishing in the top half of the conference and proving wrong the coaches who voted the Horned Frogs to finish seventh.
TCU enters this weekend’s Big 12 tournament seeded third, the highest the Horned Frogs have finished in their three seasons of conference competition.
“Yeah, it’s definitely a big improvement and an overall accomplishment with how our team came out this season,” junior guard Zahna Medley said. “We wanted to finish in the top half of the conference because we were ranked to be in the bottom half, and we knew we were way better than that.”
TCU has the potential to thrive in bracket play.
Championships are built on defense. TCU has an aggressive press and a deep defensive playbook that can be used interchangeably, led by senior forward Chelsea Prince, Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
Prince led the conference in steals for the second straight season, but she wasn’t named to the all-defensive team her junior year, which motivated her this season.
“It really hurt last year,” Prince said. “To get it my senior year, I’m so high right now because I’m so excited.”
Offensively, TCU’s 202 3-pointers are second among conference teams. Medley, a first-team All-Big 12 selection for the second time, has 63 3-pointers this season, the third-highest total of any Big 12 player. Natalie Ventress has the league’s best 3-point shooting accuracy at 41 percent.
“I think that we play together and we’re all locked in together,” Prince said. “We feed off of each other. We feed off of [Medley]. When she makes it, we all get that confidence. I think that everyone feeds off me on defense.”
Also, junior guard Veja Hamilton pulled in second-team all-Big 12 honors, leading TCU in scoring through the majority of conference play.
It’s an honor most wouldn’t have seen coming for Hamilton at the beginning of the season.
“Veja, as well as improving as a player, the new offense has opened up a lot of our teammates to be better scorers,” Medley said. “Veja’s mid-range [game] was like unstoppable in the conference.”
Home-court advantage was instrumental for most teams in the top half of the conference. Only top seeds Baylor and Oklahoma finished above .500 on the road in conference games. Oklahoma and Iowa State beat Baylor in their home arenas, the Bears’ only conference losses.
For TCU, the Big 12 Championship at American Airlines Center is as much of a home court advantage as any team.
“I feel like we have so many more fans this year,” Prince said. “I think they really believe in us to come out and support us. With it an hour down the street from TCU, I think they can make that drive.”
Teams at a glance
1. Baylor (27-3, 16-2) Vying for its fourth straight Big 12 tournament championship.
2. Oklahoma (19-10, 13-5) One of two teams to beat Baylor in conference play. Second in the league in scoring (72.2), field-goal percentage (.428) and 3-point percentage (.356)
3. TCU (17-12, 9-9) Could be a bubble team for the NCAA Tournament with a deep run.
4. Oklahoma State (19-10, 9-9) As part of a four-way tie, could be playing for an NCAA Tournament berth with a deep run. Was ranked early in conference play.
5. Iowa State (18-11, 9-9) Regular-season victory over Baylor, deep run could be enough for NCAA berth.
6. Texas (20-9, 9-9) Spent a lot of the season ranked in the Top 25. Could easily earn an NCAA Tournament berth with a few conference tournament wins.
7. West Virginia (17-13, 7-11) Has wins over Texas, TCU, Iowa State and Oklahoma, all in Morgantown.
8. Kansas State (17-12, 7-11) First appearance in Big 12 championship under new coach Jeff Mittie, who was 1-2 in the tournament at TCU.
9. Kansas (15-16, 6-12) Swept by opening-round opponent Kansas State in regular season.
10. Texas Tech (15-15, 5-13) Had victories over TCU, West Virginia, Iowa State and Kansas State.
Big 12 women’s tournament
Friday-Monday, American Airlines Center
Kansas State vs. Kansas, 6 p.m.
West Virginia vs. Texas Tech, 8:30 p.m.
Oklahoma State vs. Iowa State, 11 .m.
Baylor vs. Kansas State-Kansas winner, 1:30 p.m.
Oklahoma vs. West Virginia-Texas Tech winner, 6 p.m.
TCU vs. Texas, 8:30 p.m.
Semifinals, 1:30 and 4 p.m.
Semifinal winners, 8 p.m.