Mac Engel

TCU whiffs on chance to kill vulnerable Kansas squad

TCU is Top 25 good, Kansas is not Big 12-champion good and none of that mattered when the game did.

Some brands, and fake birds, are simply a beast to kill.

TCU has made countless improvements and strides in its basketball program, and it should make the NCAA Tournament this season, but beating Kansas when it should beat Kansas is a bigger, pricier neighborhood.

TCU wasn’t ready for this one.

From a veteran-stacked roster to a packed arena, TCU had everything in order to defeat a vulnerable Kansas team at home.

No. 10 Kansas came to Fort Worth bruised and looking nothing like a team that will extend its run of 13 consecutive Big 12 titles. Kansas left Fort Worth feeling quite good about itself after a 88-84 win against No. 16 TCU.

“We got what we deserve,” TCU head coach Jamie Dixon said.

No argument here.

Good teams are taking TCU seriously now and the record is beginning to reflect the increased attention. TCU is 1-2 in the Big 12 with a pair of home losses by the combined sum of five points.

TCU is playing with the likes of Trae Young and Oklahoma and Devonte Graham and Kansas, but they are not defeating them.

“We’re right there, of course,” TCU sophomore guard Desmond Bane said. “We have to make plays and finish games.”

The finishing games is the hard part.

How else do you explain a team that scores 84 points, out-rebounds its opponent by 14, makes 21 of 22 free throws, and loses?

“It’s hard to believe,” Dixon said. “It’s hard to fathom, but we did it.”

TCU chased the game from jump, and fell behind by double digits. Every time TCU went on a run, which inspired the sold-out crowd to create a fun atmosphere, Kansas did something to kill it all.

The Frogs briefly took a one-point lead with 5:43 remaining, and again with 4:57 left. With 3:46 remaining, forward Vladimir Brodziansky tied it with a layup, and by then they all of the momentum necessary to close out the game.

Brodziansky was scoring down low, senior swing man Kenrich Williams was finally making offensive plays after a nothing first half, and KU center Udoka Azubuike, who offensively TCU could not handle, had fouled out.

KU had Graham, its senior guard, and that was enough. As a ball handler, shooter and penetrator, TCU had no answer for Graham, who made eight free throws in the final minutes as he finished with a game-high 28 points.

As ish as KU looked in its 12-point home loss against Texas Tech on Jan. 3 in Kansas, on Saturday night the Jayhawks looked like a team that, despite their flaws, can still win the Big 12.

This is not one of KU coach Bill Self’s better teams, but every time in this 13-year run the Jayhawks look vulnerable, they win the conference.

TCU played like a team that’s just not quite there yet. When winning plays had to be made, TCU did not make them.

Meanwhile, some reserve KU forward named Mitch Lightfoot comes off the bench and scores nine points with seven rebounds and six blocks.

“They’re the 16th-ranked team in the nation,” Graham said. “You have to take them seriously.”

The Frogs put KU on the foul line 33 times to continue a disturbing trend thus far in the Big 12. TCU’s three Big 12 opponents have gone to the foul line an average of just under 30 times a game.

“We have to understand we are losing games at the foul line,” Dixon said.

Dixon has a good team, but his group is hardly a finished product. His team has played three close Big 12 games, losing two. They should be 2-1 in the league, but they are learning some brands, and fake birds, are hard to kill.

Mac Engel: @macengelprof

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