Monday, March 01, 2010

JTG 03/01/10 - It's about time

Well, I guess the last minute is better than not getting someting done at all. Creighton managed to sweep the final week of the regular season, ending at 16-14 (10-8 in Valley play) and a fourth-place finish in conference.

The week started out with a mid-week trip to Carbondale to face the hated Salukis. The game started out fast, but competitive, with neither team able to pull away from the other (or play any form of defense, apparently). Towards the end of the first half, Creighton went into one of their now-traditional swoons, allowing Southern Illinois to go on a 20-4 run. But the Bluejays came back to life a little, cutting SIU's halftime lead to 40-36.

Creighton then spent the entire second half chipping away, getting close, and hanging around against the Salukis. While Creighton was never able to get the lead, it was more than refreshing to see this Bluejay squad have the mental toughness to stay in the game and get it to overtime.

Of course, in yet another flashback, Creighton had the final possession of regulation and held for the final shot. At least this time the Bluejays' failure to score was the result of two blocked shots instead of an unforced turnover, but the result was the same.

In overtime, however, Creighton found its' collective mojo. The Bluejays scored the first six points and never looked back, pulling away for an 83-78 win. In a sign of the atrophy of this rivalry, the win was Creighton's fifth straight over SIU, including two straight in Carbondale.

So, the Bluejays got the road win they desperately needed against the Egyptian dogs. Given this season, it sets up perfectly for a letdown and an inexplicable home loss to Bradley, right?

Sure looked like it to start out. After building a ten-point lead in the first half, Creighton apparently thought they had the game in hand. Bradley came roaring back, including hitting a ridiculous shot from their own end of the court as the halftime buzzer sounded to cut Creighton's lead to one. Here's that deja vu again - how would this Bluejay squad respond?

Bradley opened the second half by hitting two shots to take the lead, much to the discomfort of the assembled Qwest crowd. But then Creighton did something we've seen precious little of all season. They put the clamps down, went on a 9-0 run, and ultimately pulled away for a relatively comfortable 82-71 victory.

You want streaks? Creighton salvaged their 10-conference-win streak, making it 14 in a row (second nationally to Kansas' 16). Their 20-game win streak, once dead and buried, now can at least be discussed. Two wins in the Valley tournament puts them at 18, and likely gets Creighton a bid to at least the CBI postseason tournament. Two wins in that, and the Bluejays pull off what to me would be an unthinkable salvage job.

So, now we look to St. Louis. On Friday, Creighton has to turn around and play Bradley again. The Bluejays have won both games against the Braves this season, but Bradley has an unfortunate history of spoiling Creighton's trips to Arch Madness. And, even if the Bluejays get by Bradley, they get the winner of the Northern Iowa-Southern Illinois/Drake play-in game. In other words, they get Northern Iowa.

That's not good news for Bluejay fans hoping for a run. Sure, the Panthers are ranked, but they're not going to be kidding themselves. UNI knows that an early exit in St. Louis could be deadly to their NCAA dreams, particularly given how weak the Valley is this year.

It does look like the Bluejays are really starting to come together, finally. How much the suspension of P'Allen Stinnett has to do with Creighton's end-of-season play is tough to tell, although it's telling that Creighton has found ways to replace his scoring. It's a big mountain left to climb, but the only time I've seen Arch Madness in person in when Creighton was a four-seed, and they won the whole thing. A little magic this weekend wouldn't be a bad way to kick off Championship Week.

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