LINCOLN — Creighton center Gregory Echenique is turning up the heat.
The 6-foot-9 senior from Venezuela followed up an inspired performance in Saturday's rout of St. Joseph's with a 12-point, 12-rebound, two-block effort in Thursday's 64-42 victory over Nebraska.
Echenique's teammates say they are a different team when he plays with the intensity and aggressiveness that he has these past two games. He's starting to believe them.
“The results have been a lot better, and I hope that I can keep it going,” Echenique said. “I'm happy and I like the way I'm playing. Sunday will be another test because they have a good big guy, and I'm hoping I can keep doing what I'm doing.”
The Bluejays return home to play Akron on Sunday, and the Zips have a talented center in Zeke Marshall, who is averaging 12 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Marshall is big — he's 7-foot and weighs 235 pounds — but his size hardly compares to the guy Echenique banged around against Thursday at the Devaney Center.
At 6-11 and 314 pounds, Nebraska's Andre Almeida is one of the few players Echenique will face this season who has a size advantage on him.
“There aren't many guys Gregory can't back down,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said, “but he met one tonight.”
Echenique got the better of the individual battle inside because he didn't simply try to outmuscle Almeida. Instead, he ran the floor hard, rebounded with intensity and let his offense come to him. He also picked up a floor burn when he dove into the Nebraska bench chasing after a second-half rebound.
Echenique got himself — and the Bluejays — going late in the first half when he scored on dunks on back-to-back possessions to stretch a 17-12 lead to 21-12.
The Bluejays eventually took a 28-17 halftime lead, and Echenique added four more points in the opening minutes of the second. He scored on a dunk off a set play on Creighton's first possession and then made two free throws after he had rebounded a missed shot by Doug McDermott and was fouled.
“He was huge tonight,” McDermott said of his teammate. “He was grabbing every single board and running the floor and finishing everything. I'm really proud of Gregory these last couple of games.
“He's starting to grow up this season, and that's something we need from him if we want to be an elite team.”
Echenique had been disappointed in his play in Creighton's 13-point loss to Boise State on Nov. 28. He came out and played with a lot more fire in Saturday's 29-point win over St. Joseph's, finishing with 16 points and six rebounds while shutting down the Hawks' inside attack.
Almeida came into Thursday's game averaging 9.4 points and 5.0 rebounds. He finished with six points, four of which came after Creighton had built a 15-point lead. He also had five rebounds and four blocked shots.
“Their man rebounds, and it's a crowd in there,” Greg McDermott said. “Gregory just went and got it (basketball). That's as big and physical a defender that Gregory has seen, but when he couldn't score over the top of him, he went and got rebounds and scored.”
Asked how he thought he did against Almeida, Echenique smiled and replied, “We won by 20. I think I did all right.”
His teammates weren't quite as modest in assessing Echenique's ability to impact games when he dials up the intensity.
“We're a different team when he's playing like that,” guard Grant Gibbs said. “He's got to continue to build off that and we have to continue to understand that when he's playing aggressively, he needs touches.”
Said Doug McDermott: “He's focusing on rebounding and running the floor. If he does that, everything else will just take care of itself and he'll get rewarded for it.”
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