LONG BEACH, Calif. — Creighton coach Greg McDermott learned one thing from his team's lengthy stay in the shadows of Disneyland.
“Eight days in California is too long,” he said.
McDermott and his team returned to Omaha on Wednesday after playing four games in six days. The Bluejays left two days before they played the first game of three in the Wooden Legacy tournament last Thursday.
After going 1-2 in the tournament, Creighton wrapped up its trip with Tuesday's 78-61 win over Long Beach State. The game was tacked on in order to fulfill CU's contractual obligation after the 49ers came to Omaha in 2011 for the BracketBusters series.
McDermott and his players hope that experience gained from having so many games jammed into a short span will benefit the Bluejays when they move into Big East play after the first of the year.
Three times during conference play, Creighton will play two games in the span of three days. The Bluejays also face that situation to begin conference play — they play Chicago State in their last non-league game on Dec. 29 before making their debut in their new league Dec. 31 against Marquette.
Creighton opened its California stay by playing back-to-back games against Arizona State and San Diego State, winning the first game and then losing the second. The Bluejays then had a day off in between the last two games of the trip against George Washington and Long Beach State.
McDermott said the situation Creighton faced in California will differ slightly from what it will face as it moves deeper into the schedule.
“When you're playing two games in three days, you can practice the day in between and get after it,” McDermott said. “When you're playing four in six days, you can't just think about the next game, but you have to be aware of the one after that.”
|BLUEJAYS TODAY ON FACEBOOK|
|Join the conversation on the Bluejays Today Facebook page.|
That was evident in the day between the 60-53 loss to George Washington and Long Beach State. Some of the players were speculating after the loss that the coaches would probably really get after them the next day in practice.
Instead, Creighton ran through a 75-minute workout that saw the five players that played the bulk of the minutes against the Colonials limited to some work against the scout squad and shooting.
“You have to get them off their feet somehow when you're in this kind of situation,” McDermott said.
Creighton opened the tournament with an impressive 28-point win against an Arizona State team that had been unbeaten in its first six games. The next night, the Bluejays weren't as prepared against San Diego State and fell behind by 19 points early in the second half before losing 86-80.
“We learned we're going to have to bring it every game,” Creighton center Will Artino said. “I think some of us got complacent after the Arizona State game. They were coming off a win against Marquette and everyone was talking about them.
“We just prepared really well and executed everything to a 'T.' There was a letdown against San Diego State.”
The loss to the Aztecs, forward Ethan Wragge said, underscored just how important pregame preparation is for a team such as Creighton that isn't blessed with an abundance of athleticism.
“We learned that we can't be satisfied with that one game,” Wragge said. “We know we have to prepare well, and we did for Arizona State.
“Then, we kind of let off the pedal and we weren't lasered in and locked in on what we needed to do against San Diego State and George Washington. It cost us. We learned we have to remain focused and not be satisfied.”
The trip also reinforced the need to get contributions from up-and-down the lineup instead of depending on a few players. Creighton’s bench players have been able to make some huge contributions to the Bluejays’ success the past two seasons.
Outside of Wragge, Creighton didn’t get much production out of its reserves in the two losses. Wragge moved into the starting lineup for the Long Beach game, but the Bluejays got solid work off the bench from Will Artino (season-high 13 points), Isaiah Zierden (11 points) and several other players.
“The bench play is crucial,” Zierden said. “You can’t rely on the starting five including Ethan to take all the minutes and be productive. The bench guys have to be ready, and when we get that opportunity, we have to take it.”
The 2-2 trip left Creighton 6-2 heading into Sunday’s home game against Nebraska. Even though Long Beach has won just one of nine games, McDermott said, getting Tuesday’s victory was huge.
“I’m pleased with the way the trip turned out,” the coach said. “Did I think after that Arizona State game that we’d end up 1-2 in that tournament? No way, but we did what we had to do against Long Beach.
“We came out of here with a couple of wins to get some momentum going into Nebraska.”