The Creighton women’s basketball team finds itself on the brink of uncharted territory.
Take care of business in their next three games, and the Bluejays could be headed to the conference tournament playing with house money for the first time.
Three wins would assure Creighton of no less than a Missouri Valley co-championship. It also would leave the Bluejays in serious discussion for an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament.
That’s an avenue that’s never been open for Creighton, which has always had to win the Valley tournament to earn a spot in the NCAA field.
“We know the importance of winning these three games and what could happen if we do,” senior guard Ally Jensen said. “If nothing else, it would give us some good momentum going into the tournament.
“It also would help us get into a good position. We know it wouldn’t guarantee us anything — the only way you can do that is to win the tournament. I don’t think we’d go to St. Charles thinking we were safe, but it would be nice to know we could have something to fall back on.”
Creighton begins the three-game stretch run Sunday with a 2 p.m. game against Drake at D.J. Sokol Arena. The Bluejays then finish the regular season with home games Thursday against Evansville and Saturday against Southern Illinois.
Creighton started the week with an NCAA RPI ranking of 24. The Bluejays (20-6) have lost just one game to a team with an RPI of lower than 100. They have put together a résumé that should draw consideration for an at-large bid should they fail to win the Valley’s automatic spot in the NCAA field.
Having a chance to be in at-large consideration on Selection Monday is a carrot Jim Flanery has chased since becoming Creighton’s coach 11 seasons ago. His team traditionally has played the toughest nonconference schedules in the league, but the Bluejays have never amassed enough wins to make a difference.
Until this season.
“I haven’t talked to the team about it, but they’re media-savvy and they know where we are,” Flanery said. “I think about it because that’s part of what I’ve tried to do for so long in terms of scheduling.
“Our kids are aware of it, but I’m not going to try to oversell it. It’s something we’ll point out to them at some point.”
At this point, Creighton’s health is of greater concern to Flanery than anticipating what could happen after the Valley tournament in St. Charles, Mo. Leading scorer Marissa Janning has missed practice time with a foot problem, while starting guard McKenzie Fujan has been hampered by calf problems.
Junior guard Carli Tritz has battled a nagging knee problem all season and recently received her second cortisone shot with hopes that it could help her play at a high level by the time Creighton gets to St. Charles.
The team’s health problems could be accentuated by having to play three games in seven days.
“It was good to go eight days without a game because it allowed us to rest up a little bit,” Flanery said. “We’re in good shape in the standings, but our health is a little bit of a concern. We haven’t had a good practice situation for a couple of weeks now.”
Creighton is a half-game behind Wichita State in the standings, although the teams have the same number of losses. The Shockers have two games remaining — Sunday at Indiana State and Saturday at Missouri State.
The Bluejays scored a season-high 98 points in beating Drake early last month in Des Moines. The Bulldogs enter Sunday’s game in ninth place in the Valley, but Flanery is wary.
“They are a young team that is getting better with nothing to lose,” Flanery said. “Everything we shot the first time went in against them. We have a great opportunity here, but we have to use it the right way.”
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