A night of college basketball — in person, not in front of the TV — brings fast-paced action, makes memories

Have I mentioned how much I love college sports? Probably not. Kay and I don’t get many chances to attend college football games — her TCU Horned Frogs or my Texas A&M Aggies — and college basketball games are an even more rare outing for us.

But Monday night, we joined over 5,300 other Frogs fans at Fort Worth’s Schollmaier Arena (I’m suspicious of the “official” attendance, because there seemed to be a lot more than 1,300ish empty seats) to watch TCU battle the visiting West Virginia Mountaineers. We saw a decent smattering of gold-shirted WVU fans, including one burly, shiny-headed, vocal fellow with his family to our left, a row down.

We had a fantastic time for two-plus hours seeing two teams that aren’t exactly top-rung in the Big 12 keep it competitive for 40 minutes. With WVU trending downward (14-12, 3-10 in the Big 12 coming in — last place) after years of talented, NCAA-qualifying teams, the Frogs put this one away after a strong second-half start, 77-67.

I was surprised to get a couple of decent, unblurred action shots with my Google Pixel 4a, including this one while TCU (in white) was on offense late in the game. (Frank Christlieb photo)

The game was a makeup of a Jan. 3 contest that we had tickets to but was postponed while TCU dealt with COVID-19 cases on its roster. Thankfully, the game was rescheduled from a Monday night to another Monday so we could still use our tickets, since my days off at The Dallas Morning News are Sun-Mon.

After we parked behind Amon G. Carter Stadium and walked up to the arena (not a short haul), we learned that Kay’s purse wouldn’t be allowed — clear bags only. We knew that and have always used Kay’s clear TCU bag for football games, but it slipped our minds as we prepared for basketball. Luckily we’d arrived early, and the two jaunts from and to the car gave us a chance to check out some TCU football plaques and take a few photos as we walked past the athletic complex at the south end of the stadium.

Both teams were still shooting lights out late in the first half, but WVU had cooled off substantially. (Frank Christlieb photo)

The college hoops atmosphere always takes me back to my days covering the Aggies for The Battalion, the student newspaper, between 1981 and 1983, and the junior-college games I covered during my nearly four-year stint at The Odessa American in my first post-college newspaper job. Even if the teams aren’t Top 25 caliber, it’s just a more enjoyable brand of basketball to watch than the pro game. Both teams Monday night played man-to-man defense pretty much from start to finish, and I found myself studying the action closely like I used to as a long-ago sports writer.

The game had an added dimension of interest for me. It was a matchup of a school I’ve come to pull for ever since Kay and I met 29 years ago — TCU, where Kay graduated in 1987 — and one from my home state (I was born in Huntington, home to Marshall University). WVU has a storied basketball history dating to the days of NBA Hall of Famer Jerry West (1957-60) and Rod Thorn (1960-63), among many others.

Almost 10 minutes into a frantic, high-scoring first half, both teams were still shooting at a pace not even the most stacked of teams could maintain. West Virginia was shooting an unheard-of 85% and TCU 68%, but the Frogs led 30-27 on the strength of strong rebounding and a few more trips to the foul line.

That’s us, stopping off for photos at Amon G. Carter Stadium on our way to the basketball game. (Frank Christlieb photo)

By halftime, despite TCU going cold and failing to score in the last 4-plus minutes, the Frogs still led 43-42. They ended up shooting 57% in the half and the Mountaineers also cooled off to “only” 55%.

In the second half, with TCU dominating on the boards (42-24 overall), continuing to shoot well (54% for the game, while WVU slipped to 46%), and racking up blocked shots (8-1 edge) with strong defense inside, the outcome was never really in doubt.

The Frogs, with all five starters scoring in double figures (Emanuel Miller 18, Mike Miles 15, Chuck O’Bannon 11, and Damion Baugh and Xavier Cork both with 10), took their largest lead (13) on an O’Bannon free throw with 3:50 to play after longtime WVU coach Bob Huggins (it only seems like he’s been coaching forever) was called for a technical foul. The Mountaineers’ largest lead, just three, came almost midway through the first half.

Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins, a West Virginia native who’s 68 and has been a college coach since I was in high school in the late ’70s, took over at WVU in 2007. (Frank Christlieb photo)

It’s only the fourth time TCU has solved West Virginia, which has won 16 of the teams’ 20 meetings. I remember that Kay and I, even though we rarely go to basketball games, were at one of those — one of the last TCU games we attended, a 98-67 Frogs win over the Mountaineers in January 2019.

The Frogs are clinging to the NCAA Tournament bubble with a 17-8 overall record, 6-7 in the Big 12. They’ve beaten only two ranked foes, Iowa State and LSU. They’re also No. 64 in the RPI rankings, so they’ll need a few more wins to have a shot.

Unfortunately, in a powerful basketball conference with four ranked teams, they have a daunting schedule to close out the regular season: On the road vs. No. 20 Texas, at home vs. No. 9 Texas Tech, home-and-road games vs. No. 5 Kansas in a three-day span (who the heck made out this schedule?), and a road finale vs. West Virginia.

The plaque showing all of TCU’s football bowl games — including the 2016 Alamo Bowl in San Antonio that Kay and I attended. That was the miracle comeback by the Frogs, who rallied from a 31-0 halftime deficit to win 47-41 in triple overtime. Best. Game. Ever. (Frank Christlieb photo)

Seeing that remaining schedule, it’s hard to imagine the unranked Frogs can pull off enough upsets to make the NCAA field. But if they can get the kind of scoring balance we saw, avoid turnovers and be consistent at the foul line (they made only 15 of 25 vs. WVU), they might be able to win a couple in this upcoming challenging stretch.

As for Kay and me, I hope we can make it to more TCU basketball games in the future. After the game, with storms all around North Texas (but not in Fort Worth) in advance of a cold front, there was a beautiful lightning display on the stadium’s north horizon that made for some cool video I’ll share here.

https://photos.google.com/share/AF1QipM7t1tZrpyGao9S_tKq94EokUooe3H1yLeG1CsfVH_MuWOSvxmZ6tJH6MWSI83nag?key=a1g4OEJZZWVzMXVReWhCajJDVWJySkVhZVo1Ym5n

If you live anywhere close to a university or college and like hoops, you ought to check out their basketball teams. I promise you’ll enjoy it!

Go Frogs! Gig ’em, Aggies!


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