Creighton’s daunting task against Tennessee became a little tougher now that the Lady Vols have Isabelle Harrison back on the court.
A 6-foot-3 sophomore center, Harrison had seven points, five rebounds and three blocked shots in Tennessee’s first-round NCAA tournament win against Oral Roberts. The Lady Vols are 19-3 with Harrison this season, and 6-4 without her.
Harrison has started 17 games this season but Tennessee coach Holly Warlick plans to play her in a reserve role in Monday’s second-round game against the Bluejays at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville.
“I like our starting group right now,” Warlick said. “They’ve gotten us off to a great start. I like bringing Izzy off the bench. I think right now she’s comfortable with that as well. Outside of obviously being injured, she’s been upset that she hasn’t been able to play and contribute.
“She’s comfortable with coming off the bench and contributing in the way that she is doing right now.”
Harrison averages 9.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.0 blocked shots per game but has missed time due to injuries to both knees and her ankle. She said she came through Saturday’s game, in which she played 13 minutes, with manageable pain in her right knee, the one that she hurt most recently.
“Last night I was still hyped up off the excitement of getting back and being able to play with my team,” Harrison said at Sunday’s off-day press conference. “After it (adrenaline) faded off, I felt it a little bit but I just did my nightly regimen of things I need to do.
“This morning, I was feel good and I’m just ready to practice.”
UT is tall order
Creighton comes up a little short inside as Tennessee, with six players 6-1 or taller, will have an overwhelming advantage against a Bluejay team that plays four players in its regular rotation 5-8 or smaller.
“It’s easier to get good guards at Creighton than the 6-3 post that can overpower you or dominate a game,” Bluejay coach Jim Flanery said. “That’s always had to be our M.O. We’ve always gotten versatile posts.”
Creighton has a good one in 6-0 Sarah Nelson, Flanery said. Nelson leads the team in rebounding at 7.9 per game, and ranks second in scoring (11.9 points per game) and assists (113). She is the first Bluejay post player to record more than 100 assists in the last 19 seasons.
“Sarah’s as good of a post as we’re going to get,” Flanery said. “I love her versatility. She’s 6-0, so she didn’t get a lot of BCS looks, and yet she’s a really good player that can play a lot of places.
“From our standpoint, versatility in post players and good guard play is how we’re going to win.”
Jays are outsiders
Creighton’s outside shooting ability has been its strength this season. The Bluejays are second nationally in 3-pointers per game at 9.3, and are 12th in 3-point percentage at .361.
They have made 10 or more 3-pointers in 16 games this season, and have already made a school-record 298 shots from beyond the arc.
Some of Creighton’s reliance on the 3-pointer developed when Carli Tritz, the team’s best player after last season, was slowed by a nagging knee injury. Freshman Marissa Janning has stepped in to fill the void, posting a team-leading 12.9 scoring average and making a team-high 73 3-pointers.
“Carli is not as healthy as she was a year ago, so she can’t drive the ball as much as she did last year,” Flanery said. “Marissa needs some strength to finish at the college level. We haven’t been as good inside the line as I’d thought, but we’ve clearly been better outside the line.”
Bits and pieces
The Bluejays planned to watch the Creighton men play Duke in the third round of the NCAA tournament Sunday night but junior guard McKenzie Fujan said the late start (9:40 p.m. Knoxville time) might create a problem. “I think I’ll watch some of it, but I love my sleep.” ... This is the first meeting between Tennessee and Creighton. … The Bluejays’ 25 wins are the most they’ve compiled in 11 seasons under Flanery. … The game will be Creighton’s first against a top-10 opponent since No. 3 Notre Dame pinned a 76-48 loss on the Bluejays on Dec. 4, 2011. … Janning has 412 points and is one of four freshmen in school history to score 400 points. Connie Yori scored 589 points as a freshman during the 1982-83 season, while Shannon Struby had 467 in 1990-91 and Kathy Halligan 406 in 1988-89. … CU is 9-4 in true road games this season while UT’s only home losses have come to top-five teams in Stanford and Notre Dame.
— Steven Pivovar