Creighton will experience a lot of emotions Saturday when it opens its women’s basketball season against nationally ranked Oklahoma.
Fear, the Bluejays say, will not be one of them.
In the past, facing a big-time program might have left Creighton players a bit intimidated. They look back on how they approached last season’s game against Notre Dame as an example.
“If you watched the first part of that game, we were kind of star-struck,” said forward Sarah Nelson of the contest that saw the Fighting Irish roll to a 41-11 halftime lead en route to a 76-48 victory. “Seeing what it’s like when we’ve played scared, I think we’re going to treat every team this year the same.”
Oklahoma comes into the game ranked 12th in the Associated Press poll and 14th in the coaches ratings. The Sooners return seven key contributors from a 21-win team that ended last season with a loss to St. John’s in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Creighton’s season also came to an end with a loss to St. John’s a round earlier in the regional at Norman, Okla. Bluejays coach Jim Flanery points to those two games as a reason his team can avoid feeling star-struck with the Sooners coming to town.
“We played the same St. John’s team that they did seven months ago on the same court,” Flanery said. “Both those games went down to the last minute. I think over the course of the season Oklahoma might have had more big wins.
“But if our players look back to where we were in March and where they were in March, we’re pretty similar.”
Creighton returns all but two players from the 20-win team that played in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002. Starter DaNae Moore graduated, while Taylor Johnson, the team’s fourth-leading scorer as a freshman, tore a knee ligament during the summer and is lost for the season.
Flanery probably will start four juniors — Carli Tritz, Sarah Nelson, McKenzie Fujan and Alyssa Kamphaus — along with senior Ally Jensen in the opener. Kamphaus, a 6-foot-3 center, falls somewhere in between a veteran and a newcomer to Flanery.
She has played in 56 games the past two seasons but averaged eight minutes per game. She’ll make her first start against the Sooners and will be matched against 6-6 junior Nicole Griffin.
Any anxiety Flanery has about the matchup is tempered by the improvement he’s seen Kamphaus make since last season. Kamphaus’ biggest stride might be in a difficult-to-gauge area of the game.
“I don’t know if I’ve improved that much in any specific area, but it’s more in my confidence level,” Kamphaus said. “I’ve played with these girls a lot more in the summer and I’m just more comfortable.
“I think it (confidence) might have been lacking in the past, but I’m to the point where I have the experience and I have to be more of a leader than a follower.”
Kamphaus said she’s not going to back down from a challenge. Nor does she expect her teammates to this season.
“I don’t know if we went into the Notre Dame game last year afraid but it was like, ‘They’re No. 2,’” she said. “Now, we see playing games like that as a challenge to get better and we know we have a shot if we play up to our potential.”
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