Big 12 Basketball

Three Thoughts on TCU’s 84-81 NCAA Tournament Loss to Gonzaga

Chuck O'Bannon

The TCU Horned Frogs lost to the Gonzaga Bulldogs, 84-81, in the second round of the 2023 NCAA men’s basketball tournament in Denver, Colo. Here are three thoughts on the game.

TCU (22-13) failed to advance to the Sweet 16 for the second straight season.

Gonzaga (30-5) will advance to its eight straight Sweet 16 under head coach Mark Few.


How TCU Lost

After the first half the Horned Frogs had a five-point lead and was shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor. The Horned Frog defense held the Bulldogs to their third-worst field goals percentage of any first half this season. And Gonzaga coach Mark Few wasn’t happy with the turnover situation.

So how did it slip away? Well, for one, the Horned Frogs had to play away from their identity — the fast break. Gonzaga won in that key area on Sunday, 17-9. TCU is the best fast-break team in the nation. When TCU has struggled with the break, it ultimately struggles overall. Because TCU shot well in the first half, it masked the deficiency.

But, in the second half, TCU’s field-goal percentage came down and ended up at 44 percent. Not bad. But Gonzaga’s came up from well below 40 percent to 45 percent. That was still below Gonzaga’s season average of 52 percent. But that, combined with the fact that the Bulldogs finally heated up from the 3-point line, was enough.

Mike Miles Jr. had a tremendous game with 24 points and four assists. But there was an eight-minute stretch in which he was held without a field goal. During that span, which ended at just under the four-minute mark, Gonzaga built a nine-point lead that looked safe.

TCU made them sweat. In 1:10 Miles made a layup, Micah Peavy hit a put-back and Damion Baugh scored a lay-up to cut it to 73-70 with 2:08 left.

But Gonzaga found a way. A Drew Timme layup here. A couple of free throws there. TCU couldn’t knock in an important 3-pointer until late in the game (the final score reflected that).

Baugh had 15 points and forward Emanuel Miller had 14 points. Peavy and Ja’Kobe Coles both fouled out.


How Gonzaga Won

Well, aside from the outlined improvement in the second half, Timme had another great game. He finished with 28 points, eight rebounds and three assists. He dealt with foul trouble and he dealt with a TCU defense geared to stop him. Players like Xavier Cork, Baugh, Coles and even Souleymane Doumbia took shots at him. They slowed him down but never truly stop him.

In the first half, Timme’s supporting cast didn’t step up. In the second half, it did and that made all the difference.

Rasir Bolton, a former Iowa State player, had 17 points. His two 3-pointers early in the second half sparked the Bulldogs. Julian Strawther had 10 points and nine rebounds. Malachi Smith had 11 points including three 3-pointers. Anton Watson had nine points and 12 rebounds.

Gonzaga had an edge on the glass, but it wasn’t extreme — 43-36. Gonzaga committed 11 turnovers to TCU’s nine.

The improvement in shooting in the second half, the eight minutes Miles went without scoring and the Bulldogs turning the tables on the fast break allowed Gonzaga to win by the slimmest of margins.


One and Done (Again)

This was a TCU team with high expectations. The Horned Frogs had never had a team this talented, this experience and this hungry to erase a second-round exit from a season ago against Arizona.

So this loss had to hurt. Like last year, the Horned Frogs had every chance to win this game and just couldn’t find a way. At least this time it didn’t come with a controversial play to end regulation.

TCU hasn’t had much of a history in the NCAA Tournament. And it still hasn’t won two games in a single tournament in March Madness.

Still it represents progress for the program. It’s the second time the Horned Frogs have been to the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons (the other was 1952-53).

To take the next step, the Horned Frogs are going to have to get better from the 3-point line and coach Jamie Dixon has to get a monkey off his back. He’s never beaten a Top-3 seed as a head coach at either Pitt or TCU.

You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard

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