TCU still ranked and feeling good despite tough Big 12 start
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — TCU went into Big 12 play undefeated, with the nation’s longest winning streak and its first top 10 ranking ever.
A tough start in conference play hasn’t changed coach Jamie Dixon’s outlook for his team. While the Horned Frogs have lost four of their five Big 12 games, the last two were in overtime on the road.
“I feel good about the team we are. There’s no doubt in my mind about our team that we’re good,” Dixon said. “We’re the most disappointed ranked team probably in the country at this point. I guess that’s good. I don’t know if you get any points for that, but that’s where we are.”
Despite a three-game losing streak, the No. 24 Horned Frogs (13-4, 1-4 Big 12) are still ranked after voters apparently took into account that the four losses are by a combined 11 points. TCU is also 25th in the USA Today coaches poll.
“There are 351 teams. A lot of them would like to be where we’re at,” said Dixon, in his second season at his alma mater after 11 NCAA Tournaments in 13 seasons at Pittsburgh. “We’re playing in the toughest league in the country. We’ve had a very tough stretch.”
The Frogs return home Wednesday night against Iowa State (10-6, 1-4). They go to Kansas State on Saturday and host No. 6 West Virginia next Monday.
TCU has lost twice to No. 4 Oklahoma, including 102-97 in overtime Saturday in Norman. In the league opener in Fort Worth on Dec. 30, the Sooners overcame a 13-point deficit in the second half. Trae Young, the freshman sensation who has scored 82 points in those two games, hit two free throws with 7.9 seconds left for a 90-89 win that ended the Frogs’ 17-game winning streak.
After an overtime victory at Baylor, the Frogs lost 88-84 to No. 10 Kansas, which needed eight straight free throws from Devonte Graham in the final 2:02. It was their first meeting since TCU upset the then-No. 1 Jayhawks in the Big 12 Tournament last March.
TCU came back from a 13-point deficit in the second half at Texas before falling 99-98 in double overtime after Jaylen Fisher’s point-blank layup attempt rolled off the rim as time expired.
“We’ve just got to bring it every night and be ready to finish games down the stretch,” sophomore guard Desmond Bane said. “It’s really just mental toughness. We’re in good enough shape, good enough basketball players. We’ve just got to be locked in the whole game and be ready to put it all out there.”
Before and since their school-record winning streak that included the NIT championship last spring, the Frogs have struggled in Big 12 games. They have lost 11 of 12 regular-season conference games, including their final seven last season that cost them a chance at their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1998.
“We’re still pretty calm,” Bane said. “We know how good we are. ... We still think we have a chance to win this league.”
Overall, TCU was undefeated as long as any other Division I team this season by winning its first 12 games. Villanova and Arizona State also suffered their first losses on the last Saturday of 2017, the day the Frogs lost their Big 12 opener to Oklahoma.
“We feel like there’s no quit in how we’ve played,” Dixon said. “I feel good going forward. I’m mad, I know we’ve got to get better. But I’d be mad if we’re 5-0 and could get better. ... I believe we’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing just a little bit better.”