FULLERTON, Calif. — Easing its way into Thursday night's game against Arizona State is not an option for Creighton.
The Sun Devils have the kind of firepower, led by sophomore guard Jahii Carson, that makes it necessary for the Bluejays to avoid duplicating a trend they've demonstrated in recent outings.
“The way we've played our last two games, we haven't come out of the gate very fast,'' Creighton forward Ethan Wragge said. “That's been talked about, and we've been working on being ready to play right away.''
The Bluejays were ready the last time the two met in the championship game of the Las Vegas Invitational last November. Creighton blew out to a 27-9 lead in the first eight minutes en route to a 14-point victory.
“We jumped on them early,'' Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “We got up by eight or nine, they went to a zone and we hit a few shots and stretched it to 18. The first eight or nine minutes were the difference because it was an even game the rest of the way.''
This year's meeting between the teams might just end up being the featured game of the eight-team, three-day Wooden Legacy tournament. It pits a pair of player-of-the-year candidates in Arizona State's Carson and Creighton's Doug McDermott. Each has a solid supporting cast capable of inflicting plenty of damage.
Arizona State's 6-0 start includes a victory on Nevada-Las Vegas' homecourt and a two-point win three nights ago against No. 25 Marquette, which faces Cal State Fullerton in one of Thursday's four games at Fullerton's Titan Gym.
Creighton's best showing in a 4-0 start came in its 83-79 win at St. Joseph's when the Bluejays fell behind by 13 points in the first half before rallying for the victory.
Wragge had a season-high 21 points in that win, while Doug McDermott overcame a slow start to finish with 20. The two-time first-team All-American is averaging 27.5 points and is coming off a 33-point, 15-rebound performance in last Saturday's win over Tulsa.
“He's a tough matchup for anybody,'' Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said. “He's so versatile. He has an edge of toughness that separates him from most everybody.
“And Creighton has an outstanding team, a great program with a superstar-caliber player.''
Carson fits that bill for the Sun Devils. The 5-foot-10 redshirt sophomore is averaging 23 points and 6.3 assists per game. He scored a career-high 40 points in the victory at UNLV and has 23 in the victory over Marquette.
He triggers an offense that, with an 85 point-per-game average, figures to stress a Creighton defense still searching for its identity.
“I would like to see a mentality that we have to keep the ball out of the basket at all costs when we're on defense,'' Greg McDermott said. “We need to fight tooth and nail to try to make that happen. We have to defend initial actions to perfection because we have no way to protect the rim.
“We don't have a shot blocker and you can't take a charge. Those are the two ways to do it, so we have to make sure it never gets to that point. That's asking a lot, but those are areas we have to improve.”
If Creighton can make some short-term improvements, it stands a chance to make a favorable impression during its six-day stay in California. After its three games in the tournament, the Bluejays play at Long Beach State on Tuesday before returning home to continue tuning up for its first season of competition in the Big East.
Creighton has a chance to meet one of its new conference rivals if it and Marquette can take care of business in the first two days of the tournament.
“We know there are a lot of questions about whether we can play in the Big East,'' Creighton guard Austin Chatman said. “We want to show people that we can play with teams of that caliber that we can play with anybody.''
» Notes: Arizona State holds a 4-3 edge in the series. Prior to last season's meeting, the teams had not played since 1974. … The Bluejays have scored at least 40 points in each of the eight halves they have played this season. Only three other teams — Duke, North Dakota and Oklahoma State — have scored 40 or more points in every half they have played this season. … Wragge has yet to attempt a 2-point field goal this season. He ranks among the national leaders by making 14 of the 25 3-point attempts he has taken. … The first two days of the tournament will be played at Fullerton's 4,000-seat arena. Sunday's action will take place at the 18,336-seat Honda Center in Anaheim.