Earning a berth in the Women's National Invitational Tournament was predictably important to TCU coach Raegan Pebley.
Every team wants to play in the postseason.
But the Horned Frogs' return to the WNIT for the fourth time in the past five seasons (they missed out a year ago) is more about the future than capping the team's best season in the Big 12.
Pebley has just two seniors and will return her three leading scorers next season — Amy Okonkwo, Jordan Moore and Amber Ramirez. Her roster includes six sophomore and a freshman.
"For a team that’s as young as us it’s a great learning opportunity," said Pebley, who guided the Frogs to the WNIT in her first two seasons in 2015 and 2016. "We have women on our team that haven’t been to a postseason of any kind yet so they’re excited. Our staff is excited. The WNIT can be a great platform for a young program so we’re going to take full advantage of that."
TCU (19-12) will be tested against Southland Conference regular-season champion Lamar (22-7) at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Schollmaier Arena.
"You have to learn how to win in the postseason. That’s another element of how else we can make this season extra special," Pebley said. "Let’s go win. Let’s go learn how to win in March and deep into March. The way you do that is one game at a time."
The Frogs have been a streaky bunch, perhaps a byproduct of youth. After losing their first three Big 12 games the rebounded with a seven-game win streak, including wins over ranked Texas and West Virginia. But a four-game losing streak down the stretch, including double-digit losses to ranked opponents Texas, Oklahoma State and Baylor, carried over into a home loss to Iowa State.
Pebley hopes that three-point loss and a 10-point loss at home to Yale in November provide her young players with lessons learned going forward. She'll also remind her team of the run the TCU men's team made en route to winning their first NIT title.
"What that allowed them to do was build confidence for the next year," she said. "I think it has a lot of benefits but you have to come into this tournament with the same focus that you’d come in with in the NCAA tournament. It’s survive and advance or die and go home. So we have to really come into it prepared and amping up the intensity another level."