Creighton coach Jim Flanery might want to consider investing in some wristbands for his women's basketball team, similar to those “WWJD (What Would Jesus Do)” bands that were all the rage a few years back.
In Creighton's case, the band would read: WWACTD — or What Would a Championship Team Do.
Given the expectations, that phrase has slipped into the Bluejays' lingo. It serves as a reminder that more is expected of a veteran group that has been picked to win the Missouri Valley title and make a strong bid for a return trip to the NCAA tournament.
“He's picked that (phrase) up this year to remind us at times when we might not be giving championship effort or executing like a championship team,” said guard Ally Jensen, one of Creighton's two seniors this season. “I really like that phrase, and I think our other girls do, too.
Jensen is one of four returning starters back from a 20-win team that came last March within a couple of seconds of posting Creighton's first NCAA tournament win since 1995. St. John's of the Big East needed a last-second basket to pull out a 69-67 win that started the Red Storm on their way to a Sweet 16 run.
Meanwhile, the Bluejays headed back to Omaha to begin preparing for a season that, like their men's team, comes with more than the usual expectations. Last week, Creighton was picked as the favorite to win the Valley title. The Bluejays also got a vote in the Associated Press preseason poll, a rarity for a program that has been ranked just three times in its existence.
Creighton has won the Valley regular-season title just twice, the last a shared crown in 2003 after winning it outright the previous season. Flanery has been dropping the “what would a championship team do” reference into preseason conversations with his players.
“I'll use it in practice when I feel like our on-court leadership or some of the other nuts-and-bolts things are not where they need to be,” Flanery said. “Or like in our scrimmage (against Iowa) the other day, I referenced it when I thought we let down a little bit.”
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Creighton finished fourth in the regular-season race last year but swept through the Valley tournament to move into NCAA play for the first time in a decade.
Getting back to the tournament is one of this season's goals. There are others, Flanery said, that will keep him from overemphasizing the winning of a championship.
“I don't want to overdo it and have them starting thinking that is our only goal,” he said. “We have to go through a long process to get to that point.”
That process starts Saturday when the Bluejays open a demanding nonconference schedule with a home game against an Oklahoma team that checks in at 12th and 14th in the two major preseason polls. Creighton also will face Nebraska and Kansas teams that start the season ranked in the top 25s.
In the past, Flanery's players might have felt a bit of trepidation when confronting such a demanding schedule.
Now, they are embracing it.
“We know we have a chance to be good,” junior guard Carli Tritz said. “We know we have a target on our backs, and that makes you step up and grow up a little bit.”
Tritz's health could play a big role in how that season plays out. The Valley's preseason player of the year, Tritz has been slowed by a stress fracture in her back and recurring problems with her right knee. Another returning starter, McKenzie Fujan, has missed practice time with a back problem.
But Flanery loves the versatility that forward Sarah Nelson brings and the experience that Jensen and Jasmin Corbin provide. He likes the improvement he's seen in other players and the potential freshman guard Marissa Janning brings to the program.
“We're capable of doing a lot of good things this year,” Flanery said.
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