Tuesday, December 15, 2009

JTG 12/07/09 - Confessions of a Jaysker

From the Omaha CityWeekly

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CURRENTLY: 3-4, 0-0, unranked.

NEXT WEEK: December 12, at George Mason

It was a tough weekend to be a ‘Husker. But for a Jaysker, the weekend was just plain confusing.

For those of you who had WAY too much turkey on Thanksgiving and are now just waking up, you missed a heartbreaking and controversial end to the Big XII Championship game which saw Texas steal a glorious upset from Nebraska on the gridiron. The truly die-hard ‘Husker fans then dragged themselves off the mat after the burnt orange sucker punch they received and headed to the Qwest Center to see the intra-state basketball rivalry game between Creighton and Nebraska.

A Jaysker, for those not familiar with the term, is a person who is a fan of Nebraska football and Creighton basketball. Usually the term is made in derision, accompanied by words like “frontrunner” or “bandwagon jumper” or [snip – CityWeekly editorial staff]. As discussed in previous columns, I bear the name with pride, and never suffer from any cognitive dissonance as a result of being a Jaysker.

Well, almost never. While there’s no question that I’m rooting for Creighton to win, it’s a very complicated emotional response I have to Creighton-Nebraska games. I don’t wish any ill on NU’s basketball program – quite the opposite, I really like Doc Sadler as a coach and I hope Nebraska wins every game except against Creighton.

But there’s something primal about being a sports fan. And when “Hail Varsity” gets played by the NU band as Nebraska goes on a run against Creighton, I have to control the tribal urge to stand up and scream.

It would help if Creighton had a better fight song. I’m sorry, “The Blue and the White” just doesn’t cut it.

Creighton found themselves in an unusual position this year with regards to the Nebraska game. Usually, it’s Nebraska that’s looking at Creighton as a great opportunity to get a good win, while Creighton is just hoping not to stub their collective toe against a lesser foe. This year, Nebraska came to Omaha at 5-1 with a decent road win under their belt. Creighton, on the other hand, was limping home after their epic FAIL in their Orlando tournament, losing to Michigan, Xavier, and (yes, really) Iona.

This year, the game was much more important for Creighton than for Nebraska. And, to my pleasant surprise after the Orlando disaster, the Bluejays played like the game was important. Creighton gutted out a 67-61 win over Nebraska, improving their record to 3-4 on the season.

Yes, the win was very important. A loss to Nebraska would have put Creighton at 2-5, and taking a four-game losing streak on the road to George Mason. These aren’t the Patriots that made their magical run to the Final Four a few years ago, but I don’t think anyone was anxious to see the Bluejays’ staring a trip to Philadelphia in the face to avoid opening 2-6.

What is more encouraging, though, is the way that Creighton beat Nebraska. Usually Creighton, like most mid-major schools, is pegged as a lightweight team that needs to hit threes in order to succeed. On Saturday, the Bluejays dropped in only one three-pointer and still won.

To make up the difference, Creighton played solid defense, forcing Nebraska into 20 turnovers. Creighton out-rebounded Nebraska 31-25, and drew 32 free throws. More importantly, Creighton hit 12 straight free throws down the stretch, to put Nebraska away after the ‘Huskers had closed to within two with just over two minutes left in the game.

Kenny Lawson was Creighton’s player of the game, going 7-13 from the field, 11-12 from the free throw line, and getting 10 rebounds. Cavel Witter was the only other Bluejay scoring in double digits, getting 13 points off the bench.

Coming back from the Orlando debacle, coach Dana Altman almost could not have scripted a better result for the Bluejays. The game was far from perfect for CU – I’m sure Altman would have written the 15 Bluejay turnovers out of the script – but the way Creighton responded to adversity was what mattered. The Bluejays kept steady pressure on Nebraska for the final quarter of the game, did not turn the ball over, and sank their free throws when they matters to close out Nebraska.

hat grind-it-out, gut-check type of win was exactly what Creighton needed. It’s going to be the blueprint for how Creighton will be successful this season. This Bluejay squad has plenty of talent, but no transcendent player to take over a game night after night. The closest thing Creighton has to that type of player is P’Allen Stinnett, but he has not shown that ability this season to date.

So, Creighton will need to play the type of basketball that Altman’s teams are known for – tough, smart, high-pressure defense, and enough offense to get by. The performance in Orlando leaves Creighton’s chances of an at-large tournament bid perilously slim, so the Bluejays need to be preparing now for their run in Arch Madness to win the automatic bid. Performances like the one Creighton got against Nebraska are exactly how tournaments are won. The Bluejays now have to show they can repeat that performance, especially on the road.

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