TCU Women’s Basketball was down ten in the first half, up 16 in the second half, and ultimately held on for a 75-72 victory in the opening round of the Big 12 Championship Tournament.
The Frogs relied on their stars Thursday night, with senior Lauren Heard once again leading the way with 26 points — 15 in the second half — eight rebounds, and four assists. The conference’s reigning Player of the Week and an All Conference team member, Heard was her excellent self once again, displaying the innate confidence and leadership that makes her so special. Coach Raegan Pebley once again reiterated that her star player isn’t afraid of the big moment, because of who she is off the court. “It’s her her identity and what she puts her identity in. It’s not just the game, the wins and losses, it’s the leadership, the toughness, the being brave. She’s not afraid of the vulnerable moments. — and you’re never more vulnerable than [at the free throw line in a late game situation]. You’ve got to have a lot of bravery to be willing to do that.” Her calm demeanor and understanding of the moment is something that Pebley knows is special about her senior point guard, and something that rubs off on those around her. “She models that for team, and for all the little girls out there that want to wear purple someday. I hope they are watching her play.”
Heard, who went 4-5 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter and 13-18 overall, was disappointing in her night at the charity stripe, but still wanted to be the one to take the shots. When asked how she consistently finds herself with opportunities to get those points, Heard said that she falls back on what she knows. “It’s a will to win,” she said. “Towards the end of a game, I don’t try and force shots, but I know those are easy ways to get my team over the hump. I am just trying to do whatever we need.”
The Frogs trailed big after one, falling behind 22-13 by the close of the first quarter. But they flipped the script in the second, out-scoring the Jayhawks 23-14, despite KU shooting 60% from the field in the frame. It was defense that did it — TCU forced nine turnovers, including four steals, out-rebounded Kansas 8-5, and saw Tavy Diggs and Yummy Morris back up Heard (7 points) by combining for 16 of the Frogs’ 23. Diggs finished the night with a career-high 20, and continues to establish herself as a future star in the program. “She has a moxie, a wiggle,” Pebley said. She’s continuing to grow in her confidence in that perimeter shot and she’s got a soft touch. She’s really worked hard to become a better defender which allowed us to keep her on the floor more.” For her part, Diggs drew her confidence from her teammates. “It’s the the look in our eyes, the positive talk, the high fives,” she said.
In addition to Diggs and Heard, Morris stepped up big Thursday night. Though she had been relegated to the bench over the last several weeks, Morris was more than ready when her name was called. It was an intentional decision by the staff to go with the veteran hand, Pebley said. “Our starting lineup was based on experience. Aja has a huge future — she’s one of the top freshmen in the conference. Our staff just wanted to see experience on the floor. Everything gets amped up in the postseason; Yummy got that nod because we knew she would understand the moment.” Morris, who had 20/6/4, has at times been TCU’s best post player, but has also faced competition from a pair of transfers in Kayla Mokwuah and Patricia Morris. Despite seeing her role change over the course of the season, she stayed the course, and it paid off for her and TCU Thursday. “Adversity can break you or it can make you. She’s gone through plenty of adversity, but she’s continued to work hard, stay engaged, stayed invested, stayed growing,” Pebley said. “The competition with Kayla and Patricia could make her or break her — I believe that it has helped her get better.”
Tied at the half, the Frogs held steady in the third, taking a five point lead into the final frame. They would stretch that lead to as many as 16 in the final ten minutes, but would not make a shot from the field over the final six minutes, scoring just four points after Caroline Germond drained a three pointer with 6:00 left on the clock to make it 71-58. The Frogs would go 0-5 from the floor and 4-6 from the free throw line — which was just enough to keep the Jayhawks at bay.
Though she wasn’t entirely satisfied with how the game finished, Pebley is still glad to come away with a win. “Kansas is a team that is never out of it. We completely lost our focus in the fourth quarter — you can’t do it against a team like Kansas. But this is great experience, great learning as we head into march. I am very proud: any time you advance in the postseason, that’s hard to do.”
The reward for TCU’s hard fought win Thursday is a date with #6 Baylor, a team that has dominated the Frogs this season — and has the benefit of rest, while their opponent will have just about 18 hours between games. That’s no excuse, Heard said after the game. “It’s really nothing new. We are tired, Baylor is tired, everyone in the Big 12 is tired. It’s not about who is next — this could be the end of our season. If you want to win, you have to gut it out, It’s not about how you feel.”
Pebley believes her team can pull off the upset as well. “I know this team likes each other. They’re working hard for one another. Survive and advance is the theme of March; it’s like we say at TCU: you’ve got to have the mentality to fight them anywhere, to ‘fight them on the ice’. If you’re going to win the conference, it’s going to go through Baylor. We just have to play with confidence and grit.”
They will get their chance Friday, with tip-off scheduled for 1:30PM on ESPNU.
Go get, em, Frogs.