FORT WORTH, Texas – As far as trials by fire, TCU’s first season in the Big 12 Conference was double barreled.
Not only were the Horned Frogs indoctrinated to the 18-game league grind in perhaps the nation’s toughest conference, they also spent the season with an inexperienced roster.
“Let’s face it, we’re not new to changing leagues,” said Mittie, referencing the school’s moving three times after the Southwest Conference and before the Big 12. “Going over new scouting reports wasn’t unusual. But watching the players first-hand and not just on film was different. This league is talented and the grind is difficult. You play on a Wednesday, you have to turn the page quickly, win or lose.”
There were too many of the latter last season. TCU finished 9-19 overall and its 2-16 record put it in last place in the standings. TCU returns four starters; Kamy Cole, who started 22 games and averaged 9.8 points per game as a freshman, decided to transfer after the season.
Mittie sees the opportunity for vast improvement and believes the Frogs could return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010.
“We learned that every game is going to be extremely tough, it’s a grind for 18 games,” Mittie said of last season. “On the nights you don’t come to play, you’re gonna get blown out. When you do come to play, you still might not come away victorious. There were games last year when we played very, very well but a play or two we didn’t make and we came away with the ‘L.’
“We improved late in the year but there were tough issues, especially early.”
Over the last two weeks of the regular season, TCU logged both of its Big 12 victories. The Frogs beat Oklahoma State and Iowa State, two teams that finished in the top half of the Big 12 and made the NCAA Tournament. Mittie says this year’s team has young players who have accumulated plenty of playing time.
“We have sophomores who logged a lot of minutes and they’re really not sophomores from an experience point of view,” he said. “There are some juniors in this conference who might not have as much experience as some of our sophomores.”
TCU has two capable back court players in sophomore Zahna Medley and junior Natalie Ventress, the top two scorers last season. Medley averaged 12.9 points per game while Ventress averaged 11.3. Both started all 30 games.
“Medley had a very good season as a freshman, she continued to improve throughout the season,” Mittie said. “They both took a lot of tough shots and their shooting percentages need to get better. They were both in the low-to-mid 30s. We need to get them better looks. They can increase their scoring numbers just by making more shots.”
“We still don’t have enough depth in the front court, particular at the ‘four’ spot,” Mittie said. “We don’t have proven numbers. We’ve got (senior center Latricia) Lovings but after that we don’t have much experience up front. Our players up front will be similar to the guards last year, we’ll have to throw ‘em into the fire.”
Loving, one of three seniors on the roster is confident that the Frogs will improve on last season.
“We’ve got more talent on the roster and we’ve got some young players who are very talented,” said Lovings, who averaged a team-high nine rebounds per game last season. “We’ve been working together and we believe in each other. And we’re going to make each other better.”
Carol Willey and Klara Bradshaw could help inside; Bradshaw is 6-6 and Willey is 6-2. Both have caught Mittie’s attention.
“They have been two of the hardest working freshmen we’ve had,” he said. “They’re the first at practice and last to leave. Their progress has been exciting to watch.”