To be the champ, you’ve got to beat the champ, and the Frogs fell short of that goal Saturday night, digging a big hole early that ended in a four point defeat.
Things could not have started much worse for the Frogs, who trailed by as many as 12 early, as they were seemingly unable to buy a shot. While Kansas seemed loose and free after losing in Lawrence to Texas Tech earlier in the week, TCU was tight in front of a sold out crowd, as only Jaylen Fisher seemed able to hit a shot in the early goings. In fact, it was Fish who ignited the offense early, hitting three in a row from deep as TCU cut the lead to single digits. Meanwhile, Kansas was feeding their big guy, Udoka Azubuike, early and often, as he made his first four shots by planting deep in the paint and using his weight advantage to bully Vladimir Brodziansky inside.
Despite their struggles, the Frogs trailed by single digits at the half, a victory in and of itself considering Kenrich Willams, Alex Robinson, and Ahmed Hamdy were a combined 0-10 through the first 20 minutes. TCU shot just 34.4% from the field and players not named Jaylen Fisher were 2-13 from deep in the first frame of action. Meanwhile, Kansas had three players in double digits by halftime, led by Devonte’ Graham’s 13 and Svi Mykhailiuk’s three three pointers. Kansas scored 26 points in the first eight minutes of game play, and seemingly couldn’t miss at the start.
But it was a story of two halves, as the Frogs came out determined in the second stanza, and made an incredible run to tighten things up. Things changed for the Frogs, and as it often does, it started with Kenrich Williams. Hustle was all over the place in the second half, as he racked up eight rebounds, four assists, and 11 points while not leaving the floor in the second half. His effectiveness opened up some much needed room for Vlad, who had a personal eight point run as the Frogs tied the game up at 77 with just over three minutes to play.
The last few minutes were frantic, as the teams traded buckets down the stretch. Kansas didn’t make a shot from the field over the final 4:38 though, when Svi drained a three to put the Jayhawks on top 75-73. From there on out, it all happened at the free throw line for KU, who made 13-14 attempts in the final 4:08. Kansas, a team that Coach Dixon pointed out averages ten free throw attempts a game, shot 33 in Fort Worth Saturday evening, making 23. TCU, meanwhile, went 21-22, but it was not enough.
After having so much success playing through Vlad, especially once Azubuike fouled out with three and a half minutes to play, TCU got a little jumped happy as time ticked away, misses several three pointers. The play of the game for the Jayhawk’s was Mitch Lightfoot blocking Jaylen Fisher’s attempt to tie things up, as he soared in once Fish hesitated on a three, effectively ending the Frogs’ chances. Lightfoot was the difference maker for Kansas Saturday - he finished with nine points, seven rebounds, and six blocks on the evening. Though the Frogs out-rebounded KU 42-28, including 19 offensive boards, had twice as many second chance points (14-7), and finished with just 12 turnovers after having eight in the first half alone, they allowed Kansas to hit 11 threes and sent them to the line 33 times - two of the focuses of their game plan going in. Coach Dixon wasn’t looking to place blame on anyone but himself and his team after the loss. “We didn’t get it done, and there’s no one to blame but ourselves.”
TCU was led by Vlad’s 20 points, including his 10/10 night from the free throw line. Fisher had 16 points in just 14 minutes, as he was very limited with foul trouble, and you can’t help but wonder how things might have been different had he been able to be on the floor his normal run. Kenrich Williams finished with a double-double despite the slow start, scoring 11 points and hauling in 11 boards, and Bane added 13, including three from deep. As a team, the Frogs shot just 9-29 from deep and 39% from the field overall.
Now, Jamie Dixon’s team has to bring itself back up off the mat and regroup before another tough road game Wednesday, this one in Austin against the Longhorns. They can’t afford to fall to 1-3 in league play if they want to keep their outside shot at a title in play, or at the very least, continue to work towards a single-digit seed. They will face another effective big man in the Longhorns’ Mo Bamba, and will need to get their defense on track to defeat a struggling but talented Texas team.