Talk of must-win games in March is usually reserved for teams on the NCAA Tournament bubble in need of victories to keep their Big Dance hopes alive, or for those chasing conference-title dreams.
But sometimes there are games that can be considered crucial even for squads that won't sniff the postseason.
Texas Tech will face one of those contests at 3 p.m. Saturday when it hosts TCU inside United Spirit Arena.
Mired in a nine-game losing streak, the fourth-longest in program history, the Red Raiders (9-17, 2-13 in Big 12) have stated since the beginning of the season that their main objective is to be playing their best basketball at the end of the year.
Tech coach Chris Walker has remained relentlessly positive throughout the difficult season his team has faced, and by all accounts and observations Tech has continued to work hard and give good effort despite the long string of setbacks.
But for young players to be convinced they are in fact improving, finding themselves on the right side of the scoreboard after more than a month without a win would go a long way.
“It's very important that we earn a win,” Tech forward Jaye Crockett said. “Any time you can get a win, you need to go for it. We know we can beat them. We beat them before at their home. They're going to come in here trying to beat us, but we need to come in and secure this win.”
And though they may not make much of it publicly, the Red Raiders want no part of a last-place finish in the conference.
One of Tech's two league wins came on the road against TCU in the Big 12 opener, a 62-53 victory that saw four Red Raiders score at least eight points while limiting the Horned Frogs to 35.2 percent shooting from the floor and 14 percent (1 of 7) from 3-point range.
Still, Walker has made it clear to his team that even against the lone opponent below them in the standings, the Red Raiders are in no position to take a victory for granted. After all, TCU (10-18, 1-14) owns perhaps the biggest upset in all of college basketball this season, a 62-55 win against Kansas on Feb. 6.
Crockett pointed to a non-conference game Tech lost at home to McNeese State this season as a firsthand lesson that the Red Raiders have no room to take teams lightly.
“You can't overlook any team, no matter who you're playing,” Crockett said. “You've got to realize they are coming in here to beat you on your home court.”
“They want to win as bad as us,” Tech point Josh Gray added.
So turning a 26-minute stretch of solid play like it had against Kansas State on Monday – the Red Raiders led by two with 14 minutes to go, then lost by 20 – into an entire game's worth of strong performances will still be necessary if Tech hopes to take care of business against the Horned Frogs and produce some kind of momentum for the final few games of the season.
“I think it's very important to the whole university, the team and the coaching staff,” Gray said. “We need it. I feel like if we get that win (against TCU), it will probably help us get wins against Texas and against Kansas.”
Crockett's rebounding best in decade
Texas Tech forward Jaye Crockett is averaging seven rebounds this season, the most by a Texas Tech player in more than 10 years.
The last Red Raider to average at least seven rebounds was Andy Ellis (seven) in 2002.
His eight double-doubles are also the most since Cliff Owens also had eight during the 1997-98 season.
Crockett leads all sixth men in the power six conferences in rebounding.
“It's moving more than the man who is boxing you out,” Crockett said. “You just have to be active on offense and defense. Move around and you can get rebounds.”
Tech point guard Josh Gray said Crockett has done a solid job of recognizing where misses are going to come when his own team drives to the basket. The junior's 2.42 offensive rebounds per game are seventh most in the conference.
“The more times us as guards penetrate and get in the lane,” Gray said, “Jaye comes right behind them and finishes.”