Creighton, which has spent most of February going backward, has a chance Wednesday night to take a big step forward.
A victory at Bradley in the 7 p.m. game would turn Saturday's contest against Wichita State into a championship battle.
“If you would have told us at the start of the season that we would still have a chance to win a conference championship in the last week, we would have been happy,” Bluejay forward Doug McDermott said. “It doesn't feel all that great right now, but we had to get back to being sharp and having fun.
“It's exciting knowing that we have something this big on the line.”
It will be there only if Creighton can find a way to reverse the course it has been on this month. It's lost four of seven February games, with one of the losses coming in a nonconference meeting with St. Mary's in the BracketBusters series.
Three losses came consecutively, and combined with two in January gives the Bluejays an 11-5 record in Missouri Valley Conference play heading into the final week of the regular season. That puts Creighton one game behind the Shockers, who visit the CenturyLink Center on Saturday.
Wichita State hosts Evansville on Wednesday, and could clinch at least a share of the championship with a win. Sharing a title might not have been on the Bluejays' minds at the start of the year, but given what they've been through the past three weeks, they'll welcome that outcome.
“There are not a lot of teams at this time of the year that can say they're still playing for a championship,” Creighton guard Grant Gibbs said.
The Bluejays also could use a couple of victories before they head to St. Louis for the conference tournament to prop up their sagging NCAA tournament hopes. Creighton came into February considered a lock for the NCAA field, but the four losses have left some questioning its worthiness if CU doesn't show a strong finishing kick.
“Our guys are well aware of how important this game is for us,” coach Greg McDermott said. “A conference title was our goal from the start of the season, and it's still attainable.
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“We're going to have to play a little bit better than we've been playing, but everything is still in front of us.”
Meanwhile, Bradley will be trying to build momentum for St. Louis. The Braves already have improved in coach Geno Ford's second season, with their 16-13 record being a jump of nine wins from last season. They are also 7-9 in the Valley after going 2-16 last year.
Creighton beat Bradley 75-58 to start the month but knows things could be different this time. The Braves are 6-2 at Carver Arena in Valley games and 12-3 overall. The nonconference loss came to No. 4 Michigan.
And Wednesday will be Senior Night for Bradley.
“Whenever you have those two things, it makes a team that much tougher to play,” Doug McDermott said. “They're going to have their adrenaline pumping, they're going to have the crowd behind them.
“We just have to execute our game plan like we did the first time. A couple of guys were playing better the first time we played them, but things haven't really changed.”
A lot of what has ailed the Bluejays this month is their inability to make shots like they did earlier in the season. Creighton's shooting percentages, both from the field and 3-point range, have dropped dramatically in the past 11 games.
Some of the Bluejays appear to be passing up shots that they took — and made — earlier in the year. That has to stop, Doug McDermott said.
“Shots aren't going to fall if you're not going to shoot them,” he said. “You're never going to make them all, but you have to approach the next one like it's going to fall. I think you'll see guys being much more aggressive in these games coming up.”
One of the keys for CU will be to keep Bradley's Walt Lemon Jr. and Dyricus Simms-Edwards from being at their disruptive best. The guards have combined to average 5.1 steals per game.
“They can really turn you over,” Gibbs said. “We did a good job at home from turning it over and having them fly the other way. That's what they feed off of, and we're really going to have to take care of the ball.”
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