LAS VEGAS — Creighton is reaping the benefits of having a couple of interchangeable parts as valuable as Grant Gibbs and Ethan Wragge.
The two are excelling in whatever roles Bluejay coach Greg McDermott asks them to play. That was never more evident than in victories against Wisconsin and Arizona State that gave Creighton the Las Vegas Invitational championship.
Gibbs, who starts at small forward, saw plenty of action at point guard, especially when starter Austin Chatman ran into foul trouble in the title game against Arizona State. Gibbs finished the two games with 14 assists and two turnovers. He also chipped in a 12 points, 10 rebounds and a couple of steals.
“To have a guy that has the ability to see the floor and move the basketball is a great luxury,” McDermott said. “Grant played great basketball this weekend. Fourteen assists, two turnovers against two pretty good teams is a testament to what he means to this team.”
Wragge's value to the Bluejays has never been greater than it has this season. The 6-foot-7 junior is adeptly sliding between being Doug McDermott's backup at power forward and Gregory Echenique's backup at center.
Wragge earned a spot on the all-tournament team after scoring 30 points and making half of his 14 3-pointers in Las Vegas. After six wins, Wragge ranks second on the team with a 12.5 scoring average. He's shooting 58.3 percent from 3-point range and 59.5 percent overall.
Wragge also appears more comfortable on the defensive end when he moves inside. He held his own when asked to match up against 6-10 Jared Berggren of Wisconsin and 7-2 Jordan Bachynski of Arizona State.
“Compared to last year, I have a good sense of when I'm going in and what's going to happen when I'm in there,” Wragge said. “You have to adapt when you're out there and figure out a way.”
Wragge struggled to do that last season when first asked to play the swing role between outside gunner and inside bruiser.
“I remember one game early last season when Doug and I were both in there,” Wragge said. “I hadn't run any of the plays at the 5 in practice, and Doug and I were running to the same spots. Now, Doug and I are getting a lot more comfortable in learning how to play off each other.”
Creighton has had stretches this season in which using Wragge and McDermott up front have been more effective than when it pairs McDermott with its taller post players.
“Ethan is taking a lot of pride in his role,” Doug McDermott said. “And he can sure can shoot that thing. He's the best shooter in the country, and we're really happy to have him out there on the floor because it makes it so difficult for other teams to defend us.”
Greg McDermott said Wragge's willingness to do whatever is asked of him has always been one of his strengths.
“I think he knows how valuable he is to this team, and he knows that coming from me,” Greg McDermott said. “He knows I trust him, he knows he has a lot of freedom, he knows I appreciate the work he's put in to become a better defender so that he can defend in the post so that we can play that smaller lineup there.”
Gibbs gives the Bluejays the opposite when he shifts to a more traditional point-guard role. He's 6-5 while Chatman and freshman Andre Yates are tippy-toed 6-footers.
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Gibbs also has a wealth of experience in the art of playmaking. He played point guard in high school and brings that mentality to him wherever he lines up on the court. Gibbs' teammates value what he brings to the offense.
“He's our guy,” Doug McDermott said.
Surrounded by plenty of weapons, Gibbs is selective when it comes to his scoring. When Creighton found itself needing points to counter Arizona State's comeback bid, Gibbs pitched in with some nifty drives that resulted in big baskets that helped seal the 87-73 win Saturday.
“I pick my spots,” said Gibbs, suppressing a smirk. “I'm not the quickest guy. I'm not a guy that's going to isolate and take people off the dribble. That's not really my game but I think I can play well off other people and get my opportunities.”
Doug McDermott said one play in the Arizona State win illustrates just what Gibbs means to the Bluejays. It was early in the second half, and the Sun Devils were continuing to chip away at what was once a 20-point Creighton lead.
Wragge missed a 3-pointer and the ball was headed out of bounds near the Creighton bench. Gibbs managed to run it down and bounce the ball off an ASU defender before crashing through his teammates and into a metal support behind the bench.
It appeared at first that Gibbs hit his head on the support and he momentarily stayed down. He eventually got to his feet, stayed in the game and scored on a drive to the basket to finish a positive possession.
“It actually was my back and not my head that hit,” Gibbs said later. “I'm good. I should have popped right up and ran out of there. I don't know why I took so long.”
That's typical Gibbs. He quick to downplay his contributions but his teammates aren't.
“That one play when he dove into the crowd says it all,” Doug McDermott said. “He's so big for us.”
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