Because of the team’s meager success rate in recent seasons, TCU men’s basketball coach Jamie Dixon sold his players on a “blind faith” approach to elevating the program in his first season in Fort Worth.
The Horned Frogs bought in, followed by their fans. But a four-game losing streak can be a mental game-changer, which is why Dixon breathed a sigh of relief when it ended earlier this week with an overtime victory at Kansas State.
That has provided the Horned Frogs (15-7, 4-5 in Big 12) with a fresh jolt of confidence heading into Saturday’s game against Texas (9-13, 3-6) at noon in Schollmaier Arena. The contest marks the start of nine rematches against league opponents that will determine TCU’s postseason fate. Dixon is happy the Frogs will begin that journey in a positive mindset.
“We were disappointed. It took a lot out of our guys and I was worried about their confidence,” Dixon said, reflecting on his team’s psyche before Wednesday’s 86-80 victory over the Wildcats (15-7, 4-5). “Now, we just beat an NCAA tournament team on the road. That says a lot.
30 Years since TCU swept Texas in a home-and-home basketball series as a conference member. That would happen if the Horned Frogs win Saturday’s rematch after prevailing, 64-61, in Austin on Jan. 11.
“We’re establishing a program, a mentality. We’re in position to do some things here and hopefully get better. Hopefully, this game at home, we start playing our best basketball.”
As things stand, TCU already has matched its highest total for conference victories (four) in five seasons as a Big 12 member heading into Saturday’s game against Texas, a team the Frogs defeated 64-61 on Jan. 11 in Austin. By claiming the rematch, TCU would sweep both regular-season games against Texas for the first time in 30 years, when Dixon was a point guard on the Frogs team that won a Southwest Conference title and a first-round game in the 1987 NCAA Tournament.
TCU’s last season sweep of Texas included a 52-37 victory in Fort Worth (Jan. 19, 1987) followed by a 70-54 victory in Austin (Feb. 18, 1987). Dixon, 51, was a college senior at the time. Although the schools have spent much of the past three decades in different conferences, TCU has posted five victories over the Longhorns in Fort Worth (in 13 matchups) over the past 30 years, including a 58-57 win last season.
But this team is focused on much more than a potential sweep of Texas in a turnaround season that has TCU perched on the cusp of another milestone. The Frogs’ next victory would be their fifth in league play.
TCU entered the year with a combined 8-64 record against Big 12 opponents as a conference member, with a high-water mark of 4-14 during 2014-15 under former coach Trent Johnson. The Frogs also seek their first postseason tournament berth as a Big 12 member — preferably a return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998 — and view their five remaining home games as critical in efforts to secure an at-large bid.
We’re establishing a program, a mentality. We’re in position to do some things here and hopefully get better. Hopefully, this game at home, we start playing our best basketball.
TCU men’s basketball coach Jamie Dixon
“That’s our main goal right now, nothing short of that,” said guard Kenrich Williams, who averages 10.4 points and a team-high 9.4 rebounds per game. “It’ll be much easier for us with the confidence we have moving forward.”
Williams hit a pair of pivotal 3-pointers during overtime in the victory at K-State, helping the Frogs finish with a 10-of-17 shooting performance (58.8 percent) from beyond the arc. It marked the first time the Frogs have topped the 50 percent mark in a conference game and stood as a dramatic turnaround from the 25.7 rate from long range (20-of-78) during losses to Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and No. 2 Baylor that were part of the four-game losing streak.
“We’ve put our offense in place with the thought that the 3-point shot was going to be a big part of it,” Dixon said. “The missed shots have just weighed on us. We let everything else out the window … and frustration set in. That can’t happen.”
That’s our main goal right now, nothing short of that.
TCU guard Kenrich Williams, on the Frogs’ plan to earn the team’s first berth to the NCAA Tournament since 1998.
With the perimeter shots falling, TCU’s confidence level is rising. For the Frogs, the timing could not be better. Five of the team’s next eight games are in Fort Worth, including two in a row against teams that trail TCU in the conference standings: Texas and Texas Tech (15-7, 3-6).
Forward J.D. Miller, who contributed a season-high 18 points in the win over K-State, embraces the opportunity to begin another winning streak following the four-game slide.
“Back-to-back wins, that’d be big for us,” Miller said. “Offensively, it was going to come. But defensively, we’ve stepped up a lot more, too.”
After leading Pittsburgh teams to 11 NCAA tournament berths over the past 13 seasons, Dixon cited a need for TCU to remain in the middle or top half of the Big 12 standings for players to live their March Madness dreams.
“We can’t take a step backward,” Dixon said. “I don’t think we have. There are just so many close games in the Big 12.”
Dixon is preparing for another one Saturday: a matchup against Texas that offers the latest milestone opportunity in TCU’s turnaround season.
TCU men vs. Texas
Noon Saturday, ESPNews
Milestones under Dixon
Most wins in season vs. Big 12 teams: 4 (tie)
Most road wins in season vs. Big 12 teams: 2
Largest crowd in Schollmaier Arena: 7,276 (Baylor, Jan. 14)
Fastest start by new coach: 8-0
First road win over Texas in 30 years
First win over Iowa State in 20 years