In what proved to be their most hard-fought game of the season, TCU women’s basketball was not able to take control late, falling in a heartbreaker to No. 21 Texas 66-64 in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Women’s Basketball Championship.
“Congrats to Texas. [It was] definitely a battle,” Raegan Pebley said. “[It] felt like that was an NCAA tournament game.”
The Horned Frogs finish the season 0-3 against the Longhorns, with the average margin of defeat being only 7.3 points.
The game was tense from the start, with the teams trading baskets for the first two minutes. Neither team shot well (both 30 percent or lower), but it was four made three-pointers by the Horned Frogs that gave them an 18-13 lead at the end of the period.
“It was very, very physical,” Pebley said. “Extremely physical.”
Two of those threes had come from guard Jayde Woods, who surpassed her season average of 5.4 points per game with six in the first quarter alone.
She would finish with a season-high 13 points and six assists in her best game as a Horned Frog.
The back-and-forth nature of the game continued into the second quarter with the Longhorns using high-percentage looks to gain a slim 30-28 lead going into the halftime break. The Horned Frogs, on the other hand, shot just 29.7 percent in the first two periods, missing all four of their second quarter attempts from behind-the arc.
The clear story of the game through the first half was the leading scorers from both teams. Center Jordan Moore (16.7 points per game) for TCU and Sug Sutton (12.8 points per game) were a combined 1-13 for two points (from Sutton) at the end of the first half.
With Moore struggling, senior Amy Okonkwo took over for the Horned Frogs. The forward scored 13 points on 50 percent shooting to lead all scorers through two quarters.
On the other side, TCU had struggled stopping Texas guard Danni Williams in the first half. The senior had barely missed, going 5-7 with 11 points.
The Horned Frogs started the second half slow, with just one made shot from the field in the first four minutes. This changed midway through the third quarter as guard Kianna Ray led TCU on an 8-2 run to take a 40-37 lead with 4:57 left to play in the period.
During that time, Ray scored her first six points of the game on two made three-pointers to give the Horned Frogs seven made from deep in the game.
“Confidence. My teammates telling me to keep shooting it,” Ray said of what allowed her to shoot so effectively. “I can’t get inside of myself. I have to look to pour out into my teammates and take whatever they’re pouring into me.”
Ray would finish with 12 points.
This run did not stifle the Longhorns as they finished the third quarter on a 7-2 run to tie the game with ten minutes remaining.
The fourth quarter began with the teams trading runs. The Horned Frogs started the period with an 8-2 run, but the Longhorns responded with a 7-0 run of their own to take a one-point lead.
After TCU went up 52-46 with 7:52 left to play, Sutton came alive for Texas. The junior scored six of her 15 points in the last 5:20 of the game, including what proved to be the game-sealing play.
With 56 seconds left in the game, Sutton stole the ball from TCU guard Dakota Vann and finished a layup on the other end to put the Longhorns up 65-61.
Pebley was right about the game having March Madness feels, as the Horned Frogs would get another chance despite their late deficit. Moore’s first two points of the game via the free throw line pulled TCU within two and she forced a steal just 12 seconds later to give the Horned Frogs the ball with a chance to tie.
On the other end of the floor, Moore made her first field goal of the game to tie the score at 65, but the basket was negated due to a TCU timeout that was called just moments before the shot went up.
Moore would finish the game 0-8 with just two points. She had only been able to play 21 minutes due to foul trouble for most of the contest.
Following the timeout, guard Lauren Heard got fouled on a drive but was only able to hit one of two free throw attempts. After the Longhorns made one of two foul shots, Woods’ layup attempt to tie was just short, and TCU fell just short of beating Texas for the third time this season.
Okonkwo finished with a game-high 21 points and a career-high 16 rebounds in the contest. The senior had played a huge role in the Horned Frogs outrebounding the Longhorns, the best rebounding team in the Big 12, 39-36.
“I felt like I had to do whatever my team needed,” Okonkwo said. “If that was rebounding, do that. If that was scoring, do that.”
The loss leaves TCU waiting for March 18, when the field for the 2019 NCAA tournament will be announced. With 10 wins in conference play and 20 overall, TCU has built up its March Madness resumé well. Regardless, all they can do now is wait.
“This is a very driven and motivated team with a lot left in their tank,” Pebley said. “I think that we’re still a very good resume built team for the NCAA Committee to consider.”