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February 9, 2013

Horned Frogs can't fight off tougher West Virginia team

Fort Worth - Kyan Anderson led TCU with 16 points, Connell Crossland added 13 and the Horned Frogs, as a team, out-rebounded West Virginia 34-23 on Saturday in what, really, wasn't too much of a blowout on a paper.

But afterward none of those stats meant a thing, because none of those stats added up to the reversal of the final score, with the Mountaineers handing TCU a 63-50 loss, sending the Frogs back to reality after their improbable win over No. 5 Kansas earlier in the week.

And you can bet for as much of a disregard the final score held for TCU's statistical highs Saturday, Trent Johnson felt equally as indifferent.

The Frogs just weren't tough enough.

"It's pretty simple," Johnson said. "Physically and mentally, they're a lot tougher than we are. I knew that going in, I knew that going into Morgantown. (West Virginia coach Bob Huggins) has always been a guy to challenge his players from a physical and mental toughness standpoint."

TCU started well, getting out to a 12-7 lead within the first 10 minutes of the game. And even after falling behind by six points, the Frogs battled toward a 28-28 tie with 30 seconds left in the half. Jabarie Hinds would hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to give West Virginia the lead, but by halftime the Frogs had out-rebounded the Mountaineers 16-to-5 and had shot 60 percent (9-of-15) from the field.

And TCU came right out of the locker room, pushing the same pace as West Virginia and exchanging buckets until the Mountaineers led 35-34 with 16:49 left.

Then, TCU's "backbreaker" had arrived, as Johnson called it after the game.

Hinds hit a pair of free throws, Deniz Kilicli made a layup and Eron Harris hit a three-pointer. All on consecutive possessions, all to give West Virginia a 42-34 lead.

TCU (10-13 overall, 1-9 Big 12) couldn't recover, getting within five points just twice more the rest of the game.

By the 8:39 mark, the Mountaineers (12-11, 5-5) led 51-40.

Garlon Green, who led TCU with 20 points against Kansas, was just 1-of-12 shooting and finished with three points. Green tallied two early fouls and ended up playing only three minutes in the first half.

"He wasn't aggressive," Johnson said of Green. "He was very tentative."

Johnson's overall assessment of his team seemed to mirror his critique of Green.

"Our guys don't want to attack the rim," he said. "They don't want to make the extra mental toughness, physical play to feed the post. That's very disturbing."

Terry Henderson, a freshman, scored 17 points for a West Virginia team that has struggled at times this season. The Mountaineers are young, a far cry from the veteran-laden NCAA tournament teams they've had the past five years.

About 20 minutes after the game, Huggins lugged into the press conference room above the court just off the concourse of Daniel-Meyer Coliseum. Huggins looked like a man carrying the weight of 1,000 games, the milestone he reached Saturday.

His face was still tinged red, his signature windbreaker canvassing him as he settled into a chair behind a table with two microphones.

Huggins has won 722 games over the course of 31 seasons. He has taken two teams to the Final Four, his most recent in 2010 in his second season at West Virginia. In five years in Morgantown, Huggins has built a consistent winner.

But his sixth season at his alma mater hasn't been easy.

He has come to accept that.

"I decided I've never been through a year like this," he said. "I'm not going to be unhappy when we win. I'm going to be happy."

On Wednesday night, after TCU shocked the country, Johnson reminded his team that the highs and lows aren't as far apart as they might seem.

You're not always as good as everyone says you are. You're not always as bad as everyone says you are.

Huggins echoed something similar Saturday.

"It's so much a game of inches sometimes," Huggins said. "I think something people sometime forget, we're playing two freshmen and three sophomores in the backcourt. It took a while. Took a lot longer than I wanted. Took a lot longer than I expected."

As West Virginia was limited on experience, TCU has been limited on talent and personnel, losing its best player just a few games into the season. On top of that, Johnson inherited a group of players recruited to play in the Mountain West. Can't entirely blame them for not being Big 12-ready.

Like Huggins had to do, Johnson is waiting, too.

It might be longer than he has wanted, longer than he has expected.

But as the Mountaineers grew up, you'd have to think growth within TCU's program will become visible soon enough. There were flashes of that Wednesday night. There were sparks of that Saturday, too.

The process hasn't always been painless for Johnson. It surely wasn't easy to swallow against West Virginia.

But if anything was made clear Saturday, the product of TCU's process isn't a matter of if, but rather when.

Johnson speaks as if he has sight of the end goal, not as if he is searching for it.

"I'm beside myself right now, because I'm all about what West Virginia is about, and that's being physical and being tough," Johnson said. "Right now, I just can't wait until we get there."


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