Creighton women's basketball coach Jim Flanery shies away from calling Sunday's contest at Minnesota a big game.
Instead, he calls it a big opportunity.
Win, and the Bluejays takes a 9-2 record into Missouri Valley Conference play. Win, and Creighton owns three victories against teams from power conferences and puts more shine on an RPI that stands at 16 in the RealTimeRPI.com rankings. Win, and a path to the NCAA tournament that had previously been closed to the Bluejays might open a little.
“If we're sitting on the bubble in March,” Creighton forward Sarah Nelson said, “this would be a big win to have on our résumé. It's a very important game for us.”
Creighton brings a six-game winning streak into Sunday's 2 p.m. game against the Golden Gophers (10-3) at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. Minnesota has won the previous five meetings between the teams, four by double digits.
The Golden Gophers have aspirations of finishing the season in the NCAA tournament. So do the Bluejays, and they think they are fashioning a résumé that could provide some options in March.
Creighton has never received an at-large invitation to the tournament, and Flanery has long thought that the only chance his team had of earning one was to cobble together the toughest schedule possible.
The Bluejays traditionally play the Valley's most difficult nonconference schedule but have taken their share of lumps. That's negated the benefit of playing a tough schedule, as Creighton has never been able to win enough nonconference games to put it in the at-large conversation.
That's left winning the conference's automatic berth as the only avenue open to Flanery's team. The Bluejays have done that three times as a Valley member, including last season, and once as an affiliate of the Western Athletic Conference.
The 8-2 start this season includes five victories against teams with winning records. Creighton's two losses came against Oklahoma and Kansas, a pair of Big 12 teams with a combined record of 18-4.
“We don't have a bad loss,” Flanery said. “If we lose to Minnesota, it won't be considered a bad loss. But if we win, it's going to give us more flexibility to drop a game or two in our league.
“This is an opportunity to beat one more team that thinks it's going to the NCAA tournament.”
There is a lot of basketball still to be played, but Flanery knows his team would be sitting pretty in the big picture if it could emerge from nonconference play at 9-2.
“I get made fun of each spring at the coaches' meetings because what we've tried to do has never quite worked out,” he said. “I'd like to be able to sit in that meeting in May and say this is why I did it and it did work out.
“In the past, we've been 6-5 going into conference play with maybe one good win, but never had the multiple really good wins. This year, we're hopefully looking at having those.”
Creighton is coming off two wins in the Caribbean Classic, including a 91-52 rout of South Florida. The Bluejays tied a school record with 16 3-pointers in putting up 91 points on a Big East team that had been allowing an average of 52.
“We're using our ball movement and our movement to tire out people with our offense,” Creighton guard Carli Tritz said. “We're just playing consistent basketball. We're not playing at one level for some teams and then going to the extreme for the really good teams.
“We're just playing really well right now, and getting a win over Minnesota would be another big boost for us.”
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