The Creighton women’s basketball team has learned not to get caught up in name games.
The Bluejays might lack some of the name recognition of their opponents but that doesn’t mean much when the ball is tipped.
“A lot of these teams are a lot closer to us than we think they are, and what the public and the press think they are,” Creighton guard Carli Tritz said. “We just have to go in confident in ourselves and execute our game plan.”
The Bluejays’ next game is against Syracuse in the NCAA tournament. The Orange finished third in the Big East, just as last season’s tournament opponent, St. John’s, did.
The Creighton women remember how few people gave them a chance in that game. They then battled the Red Storm to the wire before a last-second basket produced a 69-67 St. John’s victory.
That experience, as well as others gained in playing a nonconference schedule each season that is dotted with big-name opponents, could serve the Bluejays well in the Saturday morning game in Knoxville, Tenn.
“Most of the time it comes down to how tough you are, how you rebound and how you play defense,” Tritz said. “It’s not about what conference you’re in or how good your men’s team is or how big the school is.”
Last season’s experience also could prove beneficial.
The Bluejays were playing in their first NCAA tournament since 2003, and the players weren’t accustomed to the perks that come with playing on the big stage.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” Creighton forward Sarah Nelson said. “We had that deer-in-the-headlights look. Then they brought all this catered food into the locker room and we were like, ‘Oh, my gosh.’
“Now we’ve done all that, and I think that experience is going to help us.”
One area in which the coaching staff hopes last year’s experience helps is at the start of the game. The Bluejays fell behind St. John’s 19-9 eight minutes into the game and spent most of the game playing catch-up.
Creighton eventually did, tying the game on two free throws by Tritz with 5.7 seconds to play. The third-seeded Red Storm pulled out the victory on Nadirah McKenith’s basket with a tenth of a second to play.
“We were behind the whole game but, for the most part, it felt like a close game,” Creighton coach Jim Flanery said. “What was gratifying was that was our first NCAA game and we fell behind 11-2. If it had gotten much worse than that, it probably doesn’t ever get close again.
“We found ways to get it close. We’re not as good of a defensive team, but I feel like we’re a better offensive team. Hopefully, our players realize that if we do fall behind and we miss a couple of shots in a row that it’s not catastrophic.”
The Bluejays have had their share of rocky starts during a 24-7 season that earned them their first at-large berth in the tournament since 1994.
Evansville had Creighton down 18-2 at the start of a Missouri Valley conference game, while the Bluejays trailed Brigham Young by 18 points in the first half in a November nonconference game.
Each time, Creighton battled back to pull out confidence-boosting wins.
“People always talk about what happens in the last five minutes but what happens at the start is just as important,” Nelson said. “You don’t think it’s important at the time, but the first half is just as important as every other minute in the game.
“We’ve been able to come back from getting down. We’ve been in those situations, and I think those experiences will help us if we get there again. But we really don’t want to.”
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