TCU Women’s Basketball has started strong each of the last several seasons, winning at least nine games in the preseason in each of Raegan Pebley’s six years in Fort Worth, and at least ten games in each of the last three years. It’s been conference play where they have struggled, as the tough Big 12 slate has knocked them down enough that they have failed to reach the NCAA Tournament the entire time they have been a part of the conference (their last appearance was 2010).
They spent most of last season on the bubble, hoping that a five game conference win streak and an upset victory over a ranked Iowa State team would be enough to get them in. But, despite their 24-11 record, they were WNIT bound after losing a heart-breaker to Texas in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament.
But things feel different around this program as the calendar turns to 2020 and Big 12 play rolls in. In fact, it started with a win at a ranked Texas team — the first victory over the Horns since well before most of the players were born. A setback at home to Texas Tech didn’t derail Pebley’s group though, it seemed to only make them angry. And they took it out on their next three opponents: pounding Kansas at home, sneaking by Iowa State in Ames, and putting it on the Sooners in Norman in the second half for a 19 point win.
The Horned Frogs lost an all-time great in Jordan Moore last year, but have found something special in junior guard Lauren Heard, who has more than doubled her scoring output from a season ago to average 17.6 a game. She’s not doing it alone, though; Kianna Ray and Jayde Woods are both over double digits and Jaycee Bradley isn’t far behind with 9.8 points per (while shooting 37% from behind the arc).
Statistically, the Frogs are generally a middle of the pack team in conference play, but they defend the three point line better than any conference team not named Baylor and shoot it in the top half of the league. They force a ton of turnovers while not giving it up much themselves and are a solid offensive rebounding team. They miss Moore at the rim, as they are the worst defensive rebounding team in the league and near the bottom of the Big 12 in blocked shots as well.
But despite all these stats going against them, they keep finding ways to win.
And that’s what’s different about this team.
Sitting alone in second place, a game ahead of the Longhorns and a game behind the Bears, the Frogs have a sense of belief about them that makes you believe they have a chance to do something special. They play without fear on the road and don’t seem to get rattled in big moments. Take Sunday’s win in Norman, for example. TCU trailed by one after the first quarter, led by two at the half, then proceeded to outscore the Sooners by ten in the third and seven in the fourth to blow the doors off the home team. Their faith never wavered early, and it paid off late. And that was by design — this is a confident group. “My biggest thing was just being confident, coming out confident, and feeding off of my teammate’s confidence,” Adeola Akomolafe said post game, coming off of a 16 point performance.
When asked about her team’s ceiling, Pebley’s reaction was priceless. A very casual shrug of the shoulders followed with “I don’t know. We are just so focused, not on anything on the ceiling, we are focused on where our feet are on the floor right now. We have a vision, but we don’t let that be our focus. I don’t want to miss moments because I’m focused on what we could be, I want to pay attention to where we are.”
Pebley and her players will need to focus on the here and now if they want to get back to the Big Dance, but as fans, we can certainly look at the big picture. The Lady Bears are either the #1 or #2 team in the country based on what poll you follow, and already have some pretty impressive wins on their resume. TCU has been within single digits of the Bears just once in Pebley’s tenure, a six point loss at home back in 2016. Every game since then has been at least a 17 point differential, with most 20+ point blowouts. If the Frogs can play the Bears close, or somehow pull off the massive upset... well, the sky is already the limit for this crew. That would just send them into orbit.
TCU and Baylor tip-off at 6:30pm tonight at Schollmaier Arena. You should be there.