By Ray Cartwright
Frogs Today staff writer
Culture of one.
This has been the motto for Raegan Pebley’s team all season long, and it was on full display Thursday night.
A lot of teams would have mailed it in, being in the position that TCU is in. A long season that hasn’t gone their way, their coach stepping down at the end of season, and spring break right around the corner.
Instead of taking the easy road, the Frogs showed grit, heart, and determination in a 57-52 win over Kansas in the opening round of the Big 12 Tournament, advancing to the quarterfinals. The win came just days after TCU fell to Kansas 84-61 in the regular season finale.
With the win, TCU advances to the quarterfinals round for the first time since 2021.
The Frogs used aggressive defense, with nine steals and 18 forced turnovers, to hold the Jayhawks to their lowest shooting percentage all season.
“That was fun,” Pebley said. “I think even though we haven’t had wins, we’ve been having fun. I thought the energy that the team came to Kansas City with was so good, and they played really hard. They practiced hard. They played hard. They were super fun to watch today.”
While this is Pebley’s final run as the head coach at TCU, it’s also the last season for the seniors and graduate transfers, and they did not want their season to end just yet, according to forward Bella Cravens.
“Coach P has played such a big role in our lives in the short amount of time we’ve been here,” Cravens said. “It’s sad to see her step down. And overall, at any point that if we should lose, it’s the end for all of us — Tomi and I, Fish, a couple of other seniors — it’s like doing it one last time for each other.”
TCU was led in scoring Thursday night by grad transfer Tomi Taiwo, who scored seven of her team-leading 13 points in the first quarter.
First quarters and quick starts have been trouble for the Frogs this season, and for a moment it seemed like that would be the case again.
However, after getting down 8-3 early, The Frogs battled back to close out the first quarter in a 15-15 tie with the Jayhawks.
Roxanne Makolo was big for the Frogs in the first quarter as well, coming off the bench and scoring five including a 3-pointer with a 1:51 left in the frame.
The second quarter was a back-and-forth affair.
Kansas shot 50 percent from the field and 100 percent from behind the arc, but the Frogs were able to match them step-for-step. A 3-pointer from Makolo with 1:17 to go pulled the Frogs closer as they went into the half trailing 32-28.
Coming out of halftime, TCU asserted themselves physically while out-shooting the Jayhawks.
Cravens had six of her team-leading 14 rebounds in the third quarter and Lucy Ibeh had four of her eight rebounds in the quarter as well.
A 3-point shot from Tara Manumaleuga pushed the Frogs ahead 44-41 with 1:59 remaining in the third, and moments later she hit another, pushing TCU’s lead to six.
“We built some great momentum in the third with our transition game and behind the arc,” Pebley said. “It really wasn’t about one player or one possession. There was just such a great collective mindset.”
Closing out games has been hard for the Frogs in conference play, as they’ve had to fight from behind the majority of the season. On Thursday, the challenge was to hold on to a lead, and it was one the Frogs were up to.
The win speaks volumes to the character of this Horned Frogs team, who refused to quit on their coach or each other.
Kansas cut TCU’s lead to one just 1:28 into the fourth quarter, but that’s as close as Kansas would ever get again to TCU. The Frogs were able to always find a big answer when the Jayhawks would try to make a run. TCU’s defense ratcheted up in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, and Kansas did not hit a shot in the final 2:51 of the game, only making one free throw with 32 seconds left and the game out of reach.
“Super proud of these women,” Pebley said. “They battled for each other and played fearless. What an honor to share the sideline with them and our staff.”
So TCU’s season lives for at least another day. For Pebley her time at TCU as head coach continues on to the quarterfinals where they are set to take on 2-seed Oklahoma. Tip off is set for 5:00 p.m. on ESPN+.
For this team it’s another chance to play hard their coach, and play hard for each other.
“Coach P is an amazing woman,” Taiwo said. “She’s like another mother figure for us. Just coming here, she’s one of the biggest reasons I came here. So every time I’m on the court, we’re all on the court, we’re playing our hardest for her. The wins may not have been there so far, but we’re just going to give it all out.”
Ray Cartwright, firstname.lastname@example.org