Gil LeBreton

Frigid Frogs failed to rise to Auburn’s SEC challenge

Auburn coach Bruce Pearl calls to his team in the first half as TCU students in swim trunks send out a pro-Big 12 message behind him.
Auburn coach Bruce Pearl calls to his team in the first half as TCU students in swim trunks send out a pro-Big 12 message behind him.

S-E-C! S-E-C!?

Never really heard the chant Saturday night — not at TCU, despite Auburn’s dominating defensive performance in the second half.

Instead, the sound heard most often at Schollmaier Arena was the clang-clang-clang of Horned Frogs bricks, caroming off rim after rim.

“I think the missed shots are bothering us,” TCU coach Jamie Dixon said, after the visiting Tigers of the Southeastern Conference had hammered out an 88-80 victory.

“When we miss shots, it’s affecting everything we do. We’re looking at our stats. We start feeling sorry for ourselves.”

It’s become a familiar lament for TCU. Poor shooting has been the common thread in a four-game losing streak that threatens to burst the Frogs’ postseason bubble.

What should have been a statement game Saturday, therefore, became another night of TCU questions.

“We had a good crowd,” Dixon said. “We’ve got the fans excited about the team. And I just didn’t feel we played the way we’ve been playing.”

The challenge was there, and not just in the made-for-TV, Big 12-versus-SEC marquee title. TCU was facing a supposedly middle-of-the-road SEC team from a league that’s still seen as Kentucky and the 13 Dwarfs.

At the end of the night Saturday, however, it took Kansas beating Kentucky at Rupp Arena to even the Big 12’s challenge ledger at 5-5.

“Wow,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said quietly in the interview room.

“This series matters,” he continued. “The Big 12 is rated as the best conference in college basketball, and they’re going to get seven or eight teams in the NCAA Tournament. At least that’s what the math says.

“And right now we’re talking about not that many teams from the SEC.

“We were picked by the coaches to finish 12th in the league. And we’re not that bad.”

Pearl was being honest. His quick and athletic bunch, blessed with one of the nation’s top freshmen — 6-11 Austin Wiley, just a month removed from his high school graduation — proved too much for a Frogs team that struggled to find the basket (41.2 percent) in the second half.

The matchup was a fair one, at least on paper. Both teams are now 14-7 overall and stand 3-5 in their conferences.

“I don’t want to take anything away from Auburn,” Dixon said. “I’m just really disappointed in how we played.

“Auburn had a big loss the other day [a 19-point defeat at South Carolina], and they responded. You would’ve thought we’d do the same, but we didn’t.”

TCU and Auburn entered the night ranked 36th and 77th, respectively, in the NCAA RPI listings.

Dixon pointed out the bruise that might be left by losing to the No. 77 team.

But do the Frogs even talk about a postseason tourney bid?

“Often,” Dixon answered without hesitation. “I want that as a goal.”

“Of course it’s a goal,” said TCU’s Alex Robinson, who scored 20 points in Saturday’s defeat. “We want to make it for the seniors. We want to see them go out with a tournament.

“That’s huge, especially for coach Dixon.”

Robinson’s layup gave the Frogs their final lead with 14:34 to play, before Auburn turned up the defensive heat. Over the next nine minutes, the visiting Tigers outscored the misfiring, increasingly discouraged Frogs 24-2.

At least the orange-clad Auburn fans in attendance didn’t rub the Frogs’ noses in it by firing up the “S-E-C! S-E-C!” chant.

Instead, for the Frogs, the night ended quietly.

You could almost have heard a bubble burst.

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