The No. 7 seed Longhorns won both regular season games over the No. 10 Horned Frogs, and many didn't expect a huge fight out of the latter team.
But TCU entered the Big 12 Tournament buoyed by a season-ending win over Oklahoma where the Horned Frogs made 8-of-14 three-pointers. And midway through the second half, when TCU led 44-43, it looked like they might use another out-of-character shooting night to pull off an upset.
TCU, which entered the game shooting just 59.8 percent of its free throws — 340th in the country — succeeded on its first 13 trips to the line. And when Charles Hill Jr. canned a three-pointer at the 12:39 mark, not only did it give the Frogs the aforementioned one-point lead, but it also put TCU at 6-of-12 from the three-point line for the game.
But then Texas went to a zone and the Horned Frogs, who shot 30.9 percent on three-pointers this season, came back to earth. TCU ended the game on an 0-for-9 stretch from behind the three-point arc, and went the next 5:08 without a field goal of any kind.
"I think it came down more on us than anything," said TCU point guard Kyan Anderson. "We couldn't knock down open jumpers. I mean, they knew that, so they stayed in the zone. And it just comes down to us being able to knock down open jumpers."
The Longhorns went on a 19-5 run and the Horned Frogs weren't within single digits in the final five minutes.
"We got a bad start, the start of the second half, [when] Texas went to the zone," said TCU coach Trent Johnson. "A lot of open looks didn't go down for us.
"They played well," Johnson said. "They're playing well. They're real physical. And basically the bottom line was they made open shots, we didn't, down the stretch. And that was the ballgame in itself."
In the first half, the Longhorns not making shots kept the Horned Frogs close.
When Sheldon McClellan hit a three-pointer with 13:04 left in the first half, the Longhorns were off to a blazing 13-4 start. But Texas didn't make another field goal until Connor Lammert's layup at the 4:52 mark. That allowed the Horned Frogs to climb back into the game despite shooting just 33.3 percent from the field in the first half.
In fact, the Longhorns shot almost 12 percent better from the field — 45.0 percent — but made just one more field goal (9) than turnovers committed (8). Texas went into the halftime break up just two points at 28-26.
Texas didn't commit any turnovers in the second half.
Lewis's 19 points marked the second consecutive game that the Longhorns' leading scorer came off the bench.
"Coach asked us to be aggressive when we come in," Lewis said. "We gotta go in and do our jobs."
Sheldon McClellan chipped in another 12 from the second unit. But Texas coach Rick Barnes pointed out that 11 players — all of the Longhorns' scholarship guys on roster — have started at least two games this year. And Lewis and McClellan have 34 starts between them this season.
"I don't know if we've got a bench," Barnes said. "We've got 11 starters. Every guy I started at some point in time because of different circumstances throughout the year.
"But I do think that we're figuring some things out with a full rotation," Barnes said. "We never got to do that in practice with Myck because he was always with one group, and his group could change every day. But I do think more and more … they're starting to understand more of a rotation that we may have to go to."
Kabongo had 16 points and four assists. to pace the Longhorn starting five.
Connell Crossland led the Horned Frogs with 11 points. TCU also received a big boost from its bench with Hill and Abron combining for 19 points between them. Abron also added a game-high 11 rebounds, including six on the offensive end.
The Longhorns are now 6-3 in their nine games after Kabongo's return, with two of those wins coming over the Horned Frogs. Texas also beat TCU in Austin before Kabongo came back. Texas's three losses have come to Kansas and Oklahoma State on the road and Kansas State at home.
The Longhorns draw those Wildcats next in the Big 12 Tournament field at 6 p.m. Thursday. The Big 12 co-champions swept the Longhorns in their meetings this season.
"We're going to have to be a lot better from start to finish tomorrow than we were tonight," Barnes said. "We have to rebound the ball better. I don't care who we play. We gave up, oh, 15 offensive rebounds. Seemed like a whole lot more than that. But we've got to rebound the ball. We have to do that.
"We're going to have to play harder than we've ever played because they play hard," Barnes said. "They do all the little things, and that's what it's going to take from us. It's going to be a game where I think it's going to get down to competing and finishing possessions and just fighting."
And if Texas is to meet its stated goal of winning the Big 12 Tournament, the Longhorns will have to overcome history to do it. No Rick Barnes team has ever won the Big 12 Tournament, nor has any team ranked lower than a three seed.
Still, the Longhorns (16-16, 7-11) are on a three-game winning streak for the first time since beating Mississippi State, Sam Houston State and UT Arlington from Nov. 21 through Dec. 1. That's the only three-game winning streak for the Longhorns this year, and they haven't won four in a row this season.
"I think our guys know that we're capable of winning," Barnes said.
TCU ended its first year in the Big 12 with an 11-21 overall record, including a 2-16 mark in Big 12 play.