Long-distance connections plug TCU women into WNIT's round of 16

TCU's bench reacts to a 3-pointer in the second half of Saturday's 86-51 WNIT victory over Missouri State.
TCU's bench reacts to a 3-pointer in the second half of Saturday's 86-51 WNIT victory over Missouri State. Special to the Star-Telegram

On display Saturday for TCU’s second-round Women’s NIT game against Missouri State were exhibitions of two progressive eras in women’s basketball at the school.

With former coach and women’s basketball pioneer Fran Garmon in attendance for a halftime honor, the past had its well-deserved place.

With a team that put on a showcase of selflessness in sharing the basketball and relentlessness in defending it, the present and future — as in, the immediate future — were also very well represented.

The Frogs forced Missouri State to be everywhere at once on Saturday, and you can imagine how that turned out.

TCU drummed the Lady Bears 86-51, the largest margin of victory in a postseason game in school history, passing up shots for better and better attempts and using its depth off the bench to overwhelm Missouri State in front of a small but engaged crowd at Schollmaier Arena.

Toree Thompson led the Frogs’ 51-14 bench-scoring edge with 15, including 4 for 6 on 3-point attempts.

The Frogs (21-12) shot 54 percent from the field, including 61 percent from 3-point range on 14 makes, and had 23 assists in advancing to the third round of the tournament next week.

Defensively, the Frogs locked down on Missouri State (21-12), holding it to 25 percent shooting and forcing scoring or field-goal droughts of three minutes or longer on four occasions.

“A great day for our program,” TCU coach Raegan Pebley said. “I loved how we shared the ball, and the depth offensively and defensively. We knew tempo was important, and that we had to sustain a high level of competitiveness and assert ourselves defensively.”

TCU next gets a little break. For the third round, the Frogs will see either New Mexico or Rice, teams set to play on Tuesday. The Frogs won’t play again until Thursday or Friday at a site yet to be determined.

Missouri State was hampered by an ankle injury to Liza Fruendt, one of the best players in the Missouri Valley Conference. She was limited to seven points in 16 minutes.

Nonetheless, TCU trailed 24-19 at the 6:32 mark of the second quarter, but five 3-pointers, including two by Kianna Ray during a 21-6 run, erased the deficit for good.

Amber Ramirez, who came off the bench on Saturday, got the momentum shifted with a four-point play on a made 3-pointer and free throw. Ray followed with two straight 3-pointers. Thompson made another, and Dakota Vann finished off the TCU deluge with yet another with 31 seconds left before halftime.

TCU extended the lead to 16 with six straight to start the third quarter. When the Lady Bears cut the lead to 12, TCU went back to the long ball to send Missouri State back into retreat.

Vann and Amy Okonkwo hit consecutive 3-pointers to put TCU’s lead back to a more comfortable 18-point margin.

Lauren Heard hit another to send TCU 21 up at the end of the third, 62-41.

Ramirez and Jayde Woods also scored in double figures with 14 and 10 points.

Thompson, one of two seniors on the team, was a consistent starter this season, except for the past two games. She has provided a spark. Pebley said her senior embodies the unselfish culture of the program.

“It’s about staying ready. Being aware of what the other team is doing,” Thompson said. “And when I come in, take advantage of my opportunities. My teammates do a great job of finding me and helping me get open.”

Taking it all in was Garmon, the women’s basketball hall of famer who made her first visit to TCU’s recently remodeled arena.

She couldn’t believe her eyes, Pebley and Thompson said.

During Garmon’s tenure from 1983-93, the TCU women’s basketball locker rooms had urinals, she recalled to the team afterward.

It’s a different time financially for every program at TCU today.

But no more so than the women’s basketball program, which not only lived to see another day but believes more and more each day that it can win the WNIT with its recipe of unselfishness and lockdown defense.

“That’s when we’re at our best,” Pebley said. “It’s part of culture: selfless and relentless. Not just taking a shot, but finding the best shot.”

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram