The Creighton women’s development into a solid defensive team is grounded in its own early-season difficulty in putting points on the scoreboard.
The Bluejays held Xavier to its second-lowest scoring total of the season Wednesday night in posting a 79-50 victory before 1,340 at Sokol Arena.
Creighton came into the game second in the Big East in scoring defense, having limited its 17 opponents to 62 points per game. The Bluejays cut about a point off that average by forcing 20 turnovers that resulted in a 22-5 edge in points off turnovers.
“We’re pretty solid on the defensive end right now,” guard Marissa Janning said.
Janning had another big offensive game, following her 34-point performance in a victory over Providence by scoring 29 against Xavier. The Bluejays have scored 176 points in their last two games.
Earlier in the season, that would have been a good three-game output.
“The fact that we haven’t shot it well in some games forced us to play better on the defensive end,” forward Sarah Nelson said. “Flan always emphasizes that if you play bad on offense, it’s one thing. But if you play bad on defense, it can really turn a game around.”
Creighton coach Jim Flanery figured his veteran team had a chance to be decent on defense. He sees the potential to be even better as the Bluejays get deeper into the season.
“Early in the year, you don’t have as much film, so you’re guessing a little more and your game plans and scouts are a little more simple,” Flanery said. “The more information you can acquire, the more sophisticated your plan can be.
“We have kids that are smart and experienced that can follow the script.”
Wednesday’s game turned in the span of a dozen first-half possessions. They followed an 8-0 Xavier run that had put the Musketeers ahead 15-10. Creighton then held Xavier to a single basket over the next 8 ½ minutes during an 18-2 run.
The Musketeers missed 9 of 10 shots from the field and committed five turnovers in the pivotal stretch. Meanwhile, Janning scored seven points and Brianna Rollerson four in turning the five-point deficit into a 28-17 lead.
Creighton led by 10 points at the half, and Xavier never again got closer than eight as the Bluejays maintained their hold on first place in the league by improving to 11-7 and 5-1.
Rollerson finished with 14 points, while Nelson chipped in 12 points to go with eight rebounds. McKenzie Fujan added 11 points, and Alexis Akin-Otiko had 10.
The inside punch Rollerson and Akin-Otiko contributed off the bench offset scoreless games by two starters, Sammy Jensen and Alyssa Kamphaus.
“The thing I like is that we’re becoming less reliant on the 3,” Flanery said. “In the past, if we’d score 79, we’d have to make more than seven 3s. We’re getting better at scoring in the post and scoring from midrange.
“Kenz and Marissa have definitely gotten better at scoring off the dribble, and we’re definitely better at throwing the ball inside and completing plays.”
Creighton, which has launched as many as 43 3-point attempts in a game this season, shot 19 times from beyond the arc against the Musketeers. Overall, the Bluejays shot 54.8 percent from the field, with Nelson, Rollerson and Akin-Otiko combining to make 17 of 23 attempts.Janning made 11 of her 17 attempts, including 3 of 6 from beyond the arc, as she put together her best back-to-back performances of the season.
“It doesn’t matter who scores what or how much,” Janning said. “We just want to make a statement in the Big East and win games.”
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>> Video: See highlights from Creighton's win over Xavier:
>> Video: See CU's postgame press conference with coach Jim Flanery, Marissa Janning and Sarah Nelson: