FORT WORTH (AP) — Kenrich Williams and the TCU Horned Frogs are rolling toward their first NCAA Tournament berth in two decades, unlike a year ago when a late slide in the regular season led to their NIT championship.
Williams had 16 points and 11 rebounds in his final home game for TCU, helping the Horned Frogs to their first four-game conference winning streak since that last NCAA Tournament season with a 66-59 victory against Kansas State on Tuesday night.
The 11th double-double of the season for Williams stopped his season-high streak of six games without one. The last four-game league winning streak for the Horned Frogs (21-9, 9-8 Big 12) was in 1997-98, when they went 14-0 in the Western Athletic Conference under Billy Tubbs.
TCU, which pulled even with the Wildcats for fourth place in the conference standings, appears headed to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since that year.
A year ago, a seven-game losing streak to finish the regular season cost TCU an NCAA berth before the Horned Frogs won two games in the Big 12 Tournament and then took the NIT title.
“We’re a better team,” said second-year coach Jamie Dixon, who played on the last TCU team to win an NCAA Tournament game in 1987. “I like our team right now and obviously we’re playing well and playing our best basketball at the end. We’re playing as good as anybody right now.”
Dean Wade scored 24 points for the Wildcats (20-10, 9-8), who missed a second straight chance for 10 conference wins for the first time in five years but are still in good shape for another trip to the NCAAs under Bruce Weber. Barry Brown Jr. had 17 points and six assists before fouling out in the final minute.
TCU’s Vladimir Brodziansky hit his only field goal, a crucial 3-pointer from the top of the key for a 60-56 lead with 1:49 remaining, after Desmond Bane poked the ball away from Makol Mawien, ran down the ball on the sideline and raced in for the go-ahead layup.
That was one of a season-high 19 turnovers for Kansas State, which is averaging the fewest turnovers in the Big 12.
“Their defense is much better,” Weber said. “They’re a little more physical. They got after the dribbler. Too many turnovers from the guards, some tough, forced plays. Not great execution.”
Bane scored 15 points, and Brodziansky had seven points with three blocks. Williams, who had double-doubles in all five NIT games last season, was 7 of 12 from the field.
“Last year we had experience,” Williams said. “I think our total buy-in this year has been crazy. The last two weeks, we really bought in to what coach has been saying the whole year, which is get defensive stops first, play defense first and let the game come to us. It’s really our defense.”
Kansas State: It’s been a three-man show offensively with Wade, Brown and Xavier Sneed lately for the Wildcats, who have dropped two straight following a 4-1 stretch that strengthened their NCAA hopes. But Sneed was mostly a no-show, scoring two points on 1-of-6 shooting. While Wade and Brown combined to go 17 of 24 from the field, the rest of the team was 8 of 29 (28 percent).
TCU: A streak of three straight games shooting at least 54 percent ended because of a cold second half (36 percent). But the Horned Frogs got hot at the right time, making five straight shots after five straight misses during Kansas State’s 9-0 run.
Weber said the Big 12 is worthy of eight of its 10 teams making the NCAA field. Maybe even nine, Weber said, with Texas and Oklahoma State tied for eighth at 7-10 in the Big 12. “It’s just a fight. It’s a fight every game. The one through 10, I just hope the committee appreciates it,” Weber said.
TCU’s five-win run to the NIT title might also help explain the late-season surge that has replaced last year’s late collapse. The Horned Frogs did it without point guard Jaylen Fisher, out for the season with a knee injury. “We brought mostly all the guys back so we were able to know how it feels to win,” Williams said. “We were able to use that this season down the stretch.”
Regular-season finale for both teams Saturday: Kansas State at home against Baylor and TCU at No. 12 Texas Tech.
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