It wasn’t a great week for coach Jamie Dixon and Frog hoops. Junior guard Jaylen Fisher is riding the pine pony with knee swelling. Injured forward Yuat Alok announced he is transferring from the team, the second Horned hooper in as many weeks to shop elsewhere for playing time. The final foible? Falling short to two premier Big 12 opponents during winnable games.
If you’re new to the college basketball scene, it’s important to understand that this conference runs through Lawrence, Kansas. The Jayhawks have appeared in the NCAA Final Four 15 times and played for a championship on nine different occasions. Kansas lost to Iowa State last weekend, and Rock Chalk doesn’t drop two in a row often. KU is searching for new identity after a hand injury felled their star 7-foot-tall center Udoka Azubuike.
The first half delivered hope and confidence to Frog faithful. The Jayhawks and Frogs exchanged points in the paint, and leads changed frequently. Three minutes before halftime, the Jayhawks streaked to a nine-point-lead that they carried to the locker room. The second half became a game of catch-and-release for the purple team, whose deficit oscillated between two and nine points. The squad showed a resolve to stick it to the conference leader despite repeated miscues. Frog senior Alex Robinson buried a three-pointer with two minutes remaining to move within a possession of the blue birds. Hometown officiating forced the Frogs to foul to save the clock. KU lived at the free-throw-line in the last two minutes and reclaimed its nine-point lead to finish the game 77-68.
TCU and Robinson weren’t sharp when they needed to be. Powerhouse teams make their opponents look sloppy, even if they aren’t. Kansas never felt pressured to take outside shots. Kansas coach Bill Self was satisfied to let his athletic forwards show off their alley-oop abilities against Dixon’s man-to-man defense. The hallmarks of the purple offense are superior passing and willingness to work for the best shot. Kansas contested everything and stole the ball 10 times, contributing mightily to the Frogs’ 20 total turnovers, the most demonstrative stat of the game. Other numbers were mostly equal between the teams. Redshirt freshman guard RJ Nembhard’s 14 points led all Frogsters as he filled in for the injured Fisher. Dixon will need Nembhard to be more careful with the ball – his late turnover sealed the Frogs’ fate at Kansas.
Dixon’s players were back to form on Saturday when they visited the bustling metropolis of Norman, Oklahoma, to take on the Sooners. Luckily, OU sensation Trae Young departed for the NBA recently. Robinson and friends had a better chance to avenge last season’s two losses suffered by a combined six points. It became clear early on that this game would be decided in the final minutes. The first half featured nine lead changes, as crimson and purple displayed similar scoring prowess. Oklahoma plowed into the paint, and TCU dominated the backcourt. Frog rebounding shut down the Okies’ second-chance opportunities, making the Sooners one-and-done repeatedly on offense. Robinson’s court vision continues to dazzle, indicating he improved from his mistakes against Kansas earlier in the week. The good guys played well enough to take a six-point lead into halftime 43-37.
Oklahoma rectified its rebounding problem coming out of the locker room, and Sooner forward Kristian Doolittle did a lot to back down the Horned Frog defense and produce another contentious 20 minutes between the two Top 25-ranked teams. The second half delighted and horrified fans with 13 lead exchanges as the squads went tit-for-tat. The Sooners looked energized on defense and forced more Frog turnovers. The back-and-forth climaxed at 74 all with 18 seconds remaining. Doolittle drowned a runner with six ticks left on the clock. TCU lost 74-76 in another ridiculously tight contest against Oklahoma. This would have been a nice victory to have in their pockets as the Frogs build their resume for inclusion in the NCAA tournament. Expect another nail-biter when OU comes to Schollmaier Arena later this season.
Who’s Your Noi?
The worst part of Saturday wasn’t the loss to Oklahoma. It was forward Kouat Noi’s wasted performance. The sophomore from New Zealand came off the bench to bury eight long-balls en route to 30 total points. Robinson with 16 points was the next highest scoring Froggy. Noi’s performance from beyond the arc was astounding. Oklahoma adjusted to doubling him on the outside, and Noi used his length to penetrate for points in the paint. Oklahoma’s Doolittle, however, was the Frogs’ undoing. The junior scored 24 points to complement 10 rebounds. The consistent theme of this week’s losses was the inability of Dixon’s defense to handle athletic forwards close to the rim.
The Horned Frog round ballers were about to play Tuesday night as we were going to press, so we don’t know for sure who won, but the game provided an opportunity for TCU to improve their conference record. Why? The Frogs were hosting the woeful West Virginia Mountaineers, a bunch that hasn’t won a Big 12 game yet but took Kansas State and Texas Tech to the buzzer. TCU is back on the road again this Saturday when they visit the lesser Manhattan to take on the Wildcats of Kansas State, who recently stole a one-point-victory against 20th-ranked Iowa State. There are no days off in the Big 12 as it remains arguably the most challenging basketball conference in the nation with five ranked teams before Monday’s poll.