It’s not entirely fair to call TCU Women’s Basketball a second half team; now a fourth quarter one? You bet.
The Horned Frogs proved that they are at their best in the tightest of moments once again Sunday, but their comeback fell short as they ran out of time in falling to Texas 69-60 in their final home game of the season.
TCU trailed by as many as 20 against the Longhorns, who stretched a 16 point halftime advantage to 20 as the third quarter wound down. But this team has a ton of fight in them, and took UT to the final whistle in a furious comeback that included a 14-0 run in the fourth and final frame. In what was a very physical game, the Frogs met the Horns blow for blow in a second half that saw bodies hit the floor on nearly every possession. Raegan Pebley stopped short of criticizing the officials, but was clearly “intrigued” by some of the calls being made. “It was an incredibly physical game,” she said. “I think our team embraced the physicality for the majority of the game. It was a very challenging game to officiate as well.” She elaborated on her team’s strategy within the style, saying “it was the way the game needed to be played because it was how it was allowed to be played.”
Lauren Heard, who was quiet in the first half (eight points on 2-7 shooting, none in the first quarter) was her normal outstanding self with the game on the line, pouring in 14 fourth quarter points and finishing with 28 total, to go along with 10 rebounds and six steals. She got a lot of help from Tavy Diggs, who had one of her most complete games of her young career with 16 points on 7-12 shooting. Her emergence down the stretch has been one of the bright spots for the Frogs this season. “Tavy can do some things in a way that we don’t have other people that can do. She has and will continue to grow her game offensively; that kind of scoring presence has been much needed.”
The Frogs were dominated in the first quarter, 21-10, and spend much of the game digging out of that early hole. But they came out in the second half with a new mentality, determined to meet the challenge presented, even when the calls weren’t going their way. “Clearly we came out in the second half with more juice, and that translated well [for the comeback]. But that first quarter really hurt us, took a bit to dig out of it.”
Dig out of it they did, though, as Heard and Diggs carried the scoring (19 combined points) and the entire team contributed to a harassing defense that forced Texas into six turnovers in the final ten minutes and just 2-7 shooting from the floor. “We got aggressive, caused them into some hesitation moments, rushed them. They made bad decisions and we capitalized off of that,” Pebley said. “The rebounding was better in that stretch — those things allow you to control momentum. There were a lot of little moments.”
From the 9:39 mark of the fourth quarter to the 4:26 mark, TCU shaved 14 points off of the Texas lead — with a 14-0 run. Texas broke the streak with a free throw, but the Frogs immediately answered with a Heard layup to make it a five point game with 3:34 to play. The Longhorns would regroup though, outscoring the Frogs 8-4 over the final three and a half minutes to put TCU away.
There will be decisions to be made for TCU’s seniors after the season: with the COVID grant, every player on the roster will be eligible to return next fall. But if this was the final time on the hardwood of Schollmaier Arena for the Frogs’ four seniors, their legacy has been cemented. And it goes beyond the court. “The legacy they leave is a cultural one, an effort one, a character one,” Pebley said. “It extends beyond the sidelines and baselanes of the arena and into the community and the classrooms. They are ambassadors for TCU; not just TCU Women’s Basketball. Obviously this is a season — for all players — but none more so than seniors that has been unprecedented. They have shown grit in leadership roles. I am very proud of how they chose to walk through this year.”
But, their season is not over yet. Next up will be a matchup with Kansas State in the opening round of the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City Thursday, a team they played just a few days ago. That plays into their hands, Pebley believes. “We just played them — a lot of positives there for us, but will be for them as well, as far as things being fresh. It’s really important that we prepare well, prepare our bodies, prepare our game plan. And that we have the energy, the excitement, and the enthusiasm to go out and be ready to make a run.”