Coaches usually steer clear of painting an early February game in must-win terms. Not Creighton women’s basketball coach Jim Flanery.
If the Bluejays want to have any chance of winning a Big East championship, Flanery said, they must leave DePaul on Sunday afternoon with a victory.
“If we want to stay in the race, we have to win,” Flanery said. “It’s a great opportunity for us, but they’ll be ready based on the fact that we beat them the first time.”
Creighton enters the noon game at McGrath-Phillips Arena in Chicago with an 8-3 conference record. That puts the Bluejays a game behind second-place DePaul and 2 ½ games behind league-leading St. John’s.
One of the two losses DePaul has suffered in league play came Jan. 5, when the Bluejays rode a 38-point performance by McKenzie Fujan to an 86-78 home victory.
Fujan’s performance set a D.J. Sokol record for points in a game. Teammate Marissa Janning tied it last Wednesday when she scored 38 in a 75-61 victory over Georgetown that left the Bluejays 14-9 overall.
“I’m really excited about Sunday’s game,” Janning said. “It’s at their place, and it’s another new gym for us. Beating them again would be a huge win for us.”
Janning and her teammates know it will be a tall order to sweep the Blue Demons, who enter the game leading the conference in scoring. Four of the five starters are averaging in double figures, led by preseason player of the year Jasmine Penny at 15.7 points per game.
“I think they’re playing better now than when we played them the first time,” Flanery said. “This is going to be a really big challenge. They’re not just one of the better offensive teams in our league, but one of the better offensive teams in the country.
“They can score the ball at any position, and they have kids that can shoot the ball and drive it. That’s important in the women’s game, and they have more kids that can do that than just about anybody we’ve played against.”
DePaul brings a seven-game winning streak into Sunday’s game, with five of the victories coming by 20 points or more.
The Blue Demons are averaging 84.4 points in Big East play, and they rely on a defense that ranks sixth in the nation in steals (12.1 per game) to jump-start their offense. DePaul also ranks third nationally in assists (20.7 per game).
“Defensively, they’re a high-risk, high-reward team,” Flanery said. “They’re going to gamble a lot and take a lot of chances. If you’re solid with the ball, you’ll get good shot opportunities. If you’re lax with it, they’ll get a lot of steals.
“They really want to take chances. Because of that, they’re a team that plays in spurts. If you can get into a rhythm and not turn the ball over, you can have a good stretch. If you turn the ball over, they can score points in a hurry. That’s kind of the way the first game went.”
Although Creighton scored 86 points in the first meeting, Flanery said, a key to Sunday’s game could be whether the Bluejays can control the tempo.
“They take you out of structure because they play so fast,” he said. “They want to play at their pace.”