TCU women miss NCAA bid, hosts SFA in WNIT opening round

TCU’s Natalie Ventress, right, drives up the court against Oklahoma’s Lanesia Williams.
TCU’s Natalie Ventress, right, drives up the court against Oklahoma’s Lanesia Williams. Special to the Star-Telegram

Committees haven’t been great to TCU this school year.

The sting left from the TCU football team missing the inaugural College Football Playoff last fall by two poll positions still remains with the Horned Frogs faithful.

The TCU women’s basketball team was the latest victim, finishing as one of the first four teams left out of the women’s NCAA Tournament on Monday.

“I’m sure our fans want to feel like TCU is getting picked on, but I know, even in the situations when you look at them separately and individually, it’s not like we had perfect records and a perfect résumé and they left us out,” TCU coach Raegan Pebley said.

But just as the Frogs’ football team had another option in the Peach Bowl, the women’s basketball team is the Big 12 automatic qualifier for the Women’s National Invitational Tournament with the opportunity to host tournament games at the University Recreation Center.

TCU (17-13) will host in-state opponent Stephen F. Austin (23-7) on Thursday in the opening round of the WNIT at a time to be determined.

The Frogs (17-13) finished 9-9 in Big 12 play, earning the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament by way of a round-robin tiebreaker with three other teams finishing with a .500 record. Texas, Iowa State and Oklahoma State all earned NCAA Tournament bids.

Monday marked the first time a Big 12 team with a .500 or better record missed the NCAA tournament since Texas Tech, Kansas State and Nebraska fell short in 2005-06.

However, TCU finished No. 71 in Ratings Percentage Index, well out of the range of teams normally in real contention for the tournament, and had only two wins on the road.

“We didn’t have enough road wins and that hurt us,” Pebley said. “Had it been something where we had the appropriate RPI with the strength of schedule and the third-place finish, then we would be talking like we were really getting picked on.”

So, following the footsteps of the football team dominating Ole Miss 42-3 in the Peach Bowl, Pebley believes her team can use the WNIT as a proving ground.

“That’s where you really prove who you are as a program at this time of year — how you respond and your performance in the tournament,” Pebley said. “There will be teams that get into the NCAA tournament and they need to do that as well. What we can focus on is going into the WNIT with full hearts and a clear, unified focus.”

TCU placed a bid to host WNIT games weeks prior to Selection Monday, and athletic director Chris Del Conte was confident in the Frogs’ chances.

“Playing in the Rickel has been an unbelievable home-field advantage for us,” he said. “It’s been a fantastic year and we’ve won a lot of games here and we’re excited about this opportunity.”

TCU’s bubble status for the NCAA Tournament wasn’t withheld from conversation among the players. For every mention there was of the NCAA Tournament, there was a coinciding mention of the WNIT, Pebley said.

She held meetings with her team’s leaders so Monday wouldn’t be the first time they would sort out feelings of possibly being left out. Pebley felt like her players left their watching party without expending much extra emotion.

Now it’s a quick turnaround to keep their season alive.

“If we’re playing at home, I think they’re even more excited about getting into this tournament,” Pebley said before the location was revealed. “They love the rec. They love playing at home. The seniors, it gives them another chance to put on the uniform in front of their home crowd. They definitely would embrace that opportunity.”

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