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Women’s basketball to rely on senior leadership in Big 12 tournament

Okonkwo is as effective from the three as she is from the post. Photo by Heesoo Yang
Seniors Jordan Moore (left) and Amy Okonkwo (right) will be pivotal for TCU in the Big 12 Championship quarterfinal. Photo by Heesoo Yang

Within minutes of TCU’s 62-48 loss to No. 21 Texas in their regular-season finale Tuesday, TCU women’s basketball found out that they would be facing the Longhorns again on Saturday in the quarterfinal round of the Big 12 Championship in Oklahoma City.

For most teams, finding out that they have to face a team in the first round that beat them twice in the regular season would be disheartening.

The Horned Frogs are using it as motivation.

This is the sixth time in the last eight seasons that the women’s basketball team has opened the conference tournament against the same team they played to conclude the regular season.

“I want to play hard and make an impact for my teammates so that we can go as far as we can in the tournament [and] just prove a point,” center Jordan Moore said.

The team is trying to earn their first NCAA tournament bid in head coach Raegan Pebley’s tenure, and a win against the third-seeded Longhorns would all but seal the deal.

“I think we have a really mature, responsible, positive outlook,” Pebley said. “Whether it was the last team we played or the first team we haven’t played in a month, I think that’s the mindset you have to have.”

Although they are the sixth seed in the tournament, the Horned Frogs undoubtedly have the resumé of a team that could do some damage. 

Finishing the season at 20-9 overall and 10-8 in the Big 12, they only suffered two losses all season to teams outside the top-35 of the NCAA RPI. That, accompanied by a 76-69 win against No. 18 Iowa State on Feb. 13, has put the Horned Frogs on the bubble for the Big Dance.

To make a tournament run, TCU will need to rely on the seniors that have led them to their first back-to-back 20-win seasons since the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons.

“I think seniors and posts tend to really help you in postseason play,” Pebley said.  “They just are gonna have to do the job.”

Moore, recently named to the All-Big 12 first team and All-Big 12 defensive team, is both TCU’s leading scorer (16.7 points per game) and the backbone of their defense. After shooting just 36 percent as a team in their two previous losses to the Longhorns, TCU will need to rely on Moore’s second-best Big 12 shooting percentage to get good looks down the stretch.

Center Jordan Moore was named to the All-Big 12 First Team and All-Big 12 Defensive Team on Wednesday. Photo by Heesoo Yang.

“She [Moore] leads by example,” guard Kianna Ray said. “A lot of our team feeds off of her energy, off of how she comes off, how she starts.”

Moving outside the paint, forward Amy Okonkwo is TCU’s second-leading scorer with 13 points per game. 

Named to the All-Big 12 Second Team on Wednesday, the senior from Rancho Cucamonga, California has been at her best in the biggest games this season, including 48 points combined in the Horned Frogs’ two matchups with No. 1 Baylor. If Okonkwo can get her three-point shooting going, (39 percent on the season), that will open up the floor for Moore and company to go to work.

Defensively, the Horned Frogs will have their hands full with point guard Sug Sutton. Joining Moore on the All-Big 12 first team, Sutton is a threat all over the floor with 12.8 points, 5.3 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game. The junior averaged 15 points per game against the Horned Frogs this season, including a game-high 21 in the regular season finale.

“It was a rough game, kind of everywhere,” Ray said of TCU’s recent loss to Texas. “We need to lock in better on the defensive end.”

Along with Sutton’s prowess as a floor general, TCU will have to stay focused once shots go up, as Texas boasts a +11.0 rebound margin, good for fourth in the nation. The Longhorns have only lost the rebounding advantage in three games this season.

Texas guard Sug Sutton will be one of the Horned Frogs’ primary focuses in their matchup with the Longhorns. Photo by Heesoo Yang.

If the Horned Frogs can play more efficiently than their previous matchups with Texas, slow down Sutton, and win the rebounding battle, they will have done more than enough to pull off the upset and advance to the tournament semifinals for the second-consecutive year. 

“A really focused mentality,” Pebley said on what her team needs to be successful. “You have to come into this with focused energy, purposeful energy.”

Though they are outranked, the Horned Frogs aren’t ready to back down.  After having to settle for the WNIT in three of the last four years, TCU is ready for an NCAA tournament bid.

“This is a team so bought in to their season and their goals, and they’re undeterred and not discouraged,” Pebley said.

Tipoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. on Saturday from Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.

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