By Steve Wieberg
Seventh-seeded Texas struggled with TCU for more than 30 minutes, finally pulling away to a 70-57 victory over the cold-shooting Horned Frogs. The Longhorns have won four of their last five.
Sophomore guard Julien Lewis hit four three-pointers and finished with 19 points, his season high and equaling his career best. He was instrumental in Texas' second-half breakaway, hitting two free throws and then a three-pointer to push the Longhorns ahead by eight, 54-46, with 8:44 left.
TCU shot just 32.7% (17-for-52), and struggled in particular when Texas shifted into a zone defense with a little more than 14 minutes left in the game. The Horned Frogs managed just two field goals in the next 10:32, and saw a one-point lead dissolve into a 13-point deficit.
There's no margin of error for Texas. Win out in Kansas City or miss the NCAA tournament cut for the first time in Rick Barnes' 15 seasons as coach.
TCU coach Trent Johnson isn't ruling it out.
"They're a dangerous team right now," he said after his team's third loss to the Longhorns in as many games this season. "If anybody's capable of winning three in a row, they're it."
The Longhorns (16-16) certainly did a lot of things right Wednesday night, shooting better than 51% from the field – their second-best performance of the season – hitting 25 of 32 free throws, holding turnovers to a minimum and clamping down on TCU defensively. Against Texas' 2-3 zone, the 10th-seeded Horned Frogs hit just five field goals in the final 14-plus minutes.
"With our length and quickness, we can disturb a lot of teams' offense," sophomore guard Sheldon McClellan said. "That's what we wanted to do."
Said coach Rick Barnes, "We wanted from the beginning to force them to shoot jump shots. They're going to make some. But overall, you've got to play the numbers."
TCU led 39-38 when the 'Horns moved into the zone. There were five lead changes and three ties over a little less than a five-minute stretch before they assumed control. But assume it, they did as TCU put up misfire after misfire.
Lewis' five-point outburst began a 15-5 Texas run that moved the Longhorns ahead 64-51 by the three-minute mark.
Guard Myck Kabongo, who missed all 12 of his shots from the field in the final game of Texas' regular season, an overtime escape of Texas Tech last Saturday, returned to form. He shot 4-for-7 en route to 16 points in his ninth game back from an NCAA suspension. He and the Longhorns have won six of them.
TCU was coming off an end-of-the-regular-season high, an upset of Oklahoma, but couldn't sustain it. Senior Connell Crossland scored 11 points, freshman Charles Hill scored 10 and sophomore forward Devonta Abron finished with nine points and 11 rebounds for the Horned Frogs. They closed their first season in the Big 12 at 11-21.
Texas meets second-seeded Kansas State at 5 p.m. CT Thursday. K-State swept two regular-season games against the Longhorns, the second 81-69 in Austin in late February despite Kabongo's 24 points. Overall in that game, the 'Horns shot just 4-for-13 behind the three-point line and 19-for-33 from the foul line.