Creighton’s win against the Northern Iowa women’s basketball team Friday night hardly was a thing of beauty.
Then again, suffocating defense, like the kind the Bluejays clamped on the Panthers and Missouri Valley Conference scoring leader Jacqui Kalin, rarely is pretty.
Creighton held Northern Iowa to 24.5 percent shooting and came up with 10 turnovers in a 54-40 victory in front of 1,258 at Sokol Arena. Kalin, averaging 18.4 points and coming off four straight 20-point performances, was held to nine points on 2-of-14 shooting.
“Our plan was to wear them down with full-court defense,” Bluejay coach Jim Flanery said. “It’s harder to make an open 3 when you have to work hard to get the ball up the court.
“At halftime, they had four kids that played at least 15 minutes. I told our kids they were going to get tired, and they’re going to struggle to shoot the ball if we stay committed to pressing. We really bought into that.”
Northern Iowa came into the game second, behind Creighton, in 3-pointers at 8.2 per game. The Panthers got four from beyond the arc Friday on 24 attempts (16.7 percent).
Kalin, who scored 91 points in her last four games, drew the brunt of Creighton’s defensive attention. The Bluejays rotated a number of players on her but Marissa Janning pulled long stretches of duty.
The freshman didn’t blink when Flanery told her she would be guarding the 2011 Valley player of the year.
“I really wanted to,” Janning said. “It’s fun to watch her and fun to play against her.”
Janning also led Creighton in scoring, getting all of her game-high 12 points in the first half. Several times in the second half when she would get a break, Janning stood at the end of the bench, breathing into a paper bag.
Janning said she has an irregular heartbeat and that it was bothering her Friday. She said it’s a condition she’s been playing with since high school, and multiple tests haven’t revealed a cause for it. She has been cleared to play by medical personnel.
“It just flares up every now and then,” she said. “I’ve learned to deal with it.”
Janning has drawn attention with her offensive play, and Friday’s output marked the 11th time in 18 games she’s scored 10 points or more. But it is the 5-foot-8 Janning’s potential as a defender that has her coach excited about the future.
“I’ve said all along she’s good defensively,” Flanery said. “We have quicker kids but they’re all so tiny. She’s not big but she has the potential to be a lock-down defender. She’s in great shape, she’s got good feet, and she’s willing to play hard.”
Janning scored half of her team’s first-half points in helping the Bluejays to a 24-21 lead. Creighton opened the second half with an 11-4 spurt that featured 3-pointers by Carli Tritz and Ally Jensen and a pair of baskets by McKenzie Fujan.
Jensen’s basket put the Bluejays ahead 35-25 with 16:17 to play, and the Panthers never got closer than seven points after that.
“It’s always important to get off to a good start like that,” said forward Sarah Nelson, who finished with 11 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two blocks. “They had a couple of little spurts that could have crunched our lead down had we not had that good start.”
Jensen had a career-high 10 rebounds for the Bluejays, who struggled on the offensive end in shooting 30.8 percent. Nine of CU’s 16 baskets came from beyond the arc, matching its nation-leading per-game 3-point average.
Creighton improved to 14-4 and 6-1 with its second straight win since dropping a 22-point decision at Wichita State a week ago.
“That loss did us some good in a sense,” Nelson said. “We were starting to think, ‘Yeah, we’re good,’ and were getting a little too comfortable with where we were at.
“We learned that on any given night, we can get spanked by anybody. Hopefully, we can keep this going.”
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