No. 16 Frogs no fluke as TCU prepares to play Kansas again

Upset of Jayhawks at 2017 Big 12 Tournament helped fueld TCU’s resurgence

Kenrich Williams leads a balanced TCU squad with a 14.8-point average. (File photograph/Lubbock Avalanche-Journal)

FORT WORTH, Texas — TCU’s upset of Kansas last March in the Big 12 Tournament was quite a surprise then.

 

The Horned Frogs’ only win ever over a No. 1-ranked team doesn’t seem like such a fluke now.

Coach Jamie Dixon’s team, which hosts the Jayhawks on Saturday, has since won the NIT championship, had a school-record 17-game winning streak and reached the top 10 for the first time ever.

“After we beat them, it just led to better things, the NIT win, us being ranked this year, us starting off this good this year,” junior forward JD Miller said Thursday. “That was the big boost that we needed for this program.”

No. 16 TCU (13-1, 1-1 Big 12) this season returned all five starters, and the top six scorers, from that quarterfinal win over the Jayhawks. While the Frogs lost to Iowa State the next day, their third game in three days, they swept through five NIT games and then started 12-0 this season.

“I think it’s a pretty apparent what they’ve done,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “They’re definitely one of the deeper teams in our league. … They’re much, much better this year because they’ve added some nice pieces that fit in so well. I think TCU is here to stay.”

Before returning to his alma mater last season, Dixon had led Pittsburgh to 11 NCAA Tournaments in his 13 seasons.

Every TCU starter is averaging double-figure scoring, led by senior guard Kenrich Williams’ 14.8 points per game. He is also the top rebounder with 9.2 per game.

The Frogs’ only loss this year was 90-89 at home last Saturday to No. 7 Oklahoma in their Big 12 opener and first game ever as a top 10 team. That ended the school-record winning streak that was the nation’s longest active streak.

They rebounded with an 81-78 win at Baylor on Tuesday, the same night No. 10 Kansas (11-3, 1-1) lost 85-73 at home to No. 18 Texas Tech.

In that Big 12 tourney game in Kansas City last March, Desmond Bane made three free throws with 2.5 seconds left for an 85-82 win over the Jayhawks.

“Definitely, that was huge for me and my confidence moving forward,” said Bane, now a sophomore. “And it was great for our program to be able to do something like that and do something special. I feel like we’ve really been able to build off of that win.”

A week into last February during Dixon’s debut, TCU was already 17-7 overall and 6-5 in Big 12 play — after winning only eight conference games combined its first four years in the power league. But the Frogs then lost their last seven regular-season games, four of those losses by a combined 10 points.

“We thought we were really good last year, and we had proven we were until that seven-game stretch,” Dixon said. “I think people that knew and watched, and truly looked at it, could see we were losing some close games in a really good conference.”

The Horned Frogs haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament in two decades, and their last NCAA victory was when Dixon was a senior guard for them 31 years ago.

“Coming into a program, my message was, from the start, that this is not a rebuild, and people looked at me crazy,” Dixon said. “But I had to instill that confidence in our players that I believed they were good enough. … That was the message I wanted to send.”

Message received.

“For sure, it’s a great feeling,” Bane said. “He’s a great coach. We’ve got a great group of guys. We love our group that we have.”

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