Published Monday, March 25, 2013 at 8:01 pm / Updated at 11:53 pm
BASKETBALL
Jays hold their own early, then Lady Vols pull away

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — An orange storm rushed into Thompson-Boling Arena on Monday night and washed away Creighton's NCAA tournament stay.

Second-seeded Tennessee used a three-minute blitz early in the second half to turn a tight game in its favor, downing the Bluejays 68-52.

The loss came two days after Creighton's first NCAA tournament victory since 1994. The Lady Vols will play in the tournament's third round on Sunday.

“They're a really good team,” Creighton coach Jim Flanery said of Tennessee. “It was a great experience for our players and I felt like through large stretches of the game we played well enough to be competitive.”

For a while, in fact, it looked as though the Bluejays might threaten one of the country's most storied programs on its own floor.

Using a balanced scoring attack and tough defense, Creighton was only six points down at halftime and a McKenzie Fujan jumper cut the lead to 35-31 after the break.

That's when Tennessee turned up the heat.

After a Taber Spani 3-pointer extended the lead to 7, Flanery called time out.

Tennessee responded with a steal and a basket and, when Creighton turned it over again, the Vols scored a fast-break layup.

When play resumed after a TV timeout, Tennessee's Ariel Massengale and Meighan Simmons hit back-to-back 3s. Flanery called a second timeout, but just like that the Bluejays were down 17.

From there, it was just a matter of closing out the game. While Creighton cut the lead to nine with less than five minutes to play, it wasn't able to get any closer.

“We fought back but (we) just weren't good enough offensively,” Flanery said.

Creighton finished 25-8 and had momentum to build on after its first-round victory on Saturday.

Matched up against the 2-3 zone of Syracuse in the first round, Creighton launched 24 first-half 3-pointers.

Tennessee's aggressive man-to-man defense presented a much different front, and the Bluejays responded by driving to the basket and pounding the ball inside.

Senior guard Ally Jensen said that with only two days between games, it was difficult to prepare for Tennessee's athleticism.

“They're super-athletic at all five positions,” she said. “We got a little lackadaisical with the ball ... (and) got dead in situations where you can't against teams like Tennessee.”

The pressure also hampered Creighton's ability to get open looks from beyond the arc. Averaging 9.3 3-pointers per game coming into the tournament, Creighton made only four on Monday night, a season low.

Flanery said he thought the Bluejays would need to make at least eight or nine to win the game, but that he knew Tennessee would be prepared to take away that shot.

“As far as the quality of the looks ... I didn't think we got as good of looks as we normally got,” he said.

Tennessee came into the game primed to defend from long distance.

Lady Vols coach Holly Warlick said her team's goal was to limit the Bluejays to five 3-pointers, and they deliberately avoided providing help-side defense in an effort to prevent open jumpers.

Warlick also credited the Bluejays with adjusting to a Tennessee defense that was switching on screens. She said that strategy was abandoned after Creighton got some inside baskets.

“I thought that our key was to play one-on-one, you have to lock your player up, you have to defend one-on-one ... (It) seemed like when we did help we gave up an open-look 3,” Warlick said.

In this game, though, it was Tennessee that used outside daggers to its advantage.

The Lady Vols were 6 of 10 from long range, including key jumpers during the second-half stretch that blew the game open.

Guard Kamiko Williams led the team with 15 points while hitting six field goals from inside the arc.

Williams, who averaged only 6.8 points a game, said her coaches and teammates “just encourage me to go out there and go play.”

“I didn't think about myself,” she said. “My teammates found me in the right spots.”

The Bluejays held Tennessee's leading scorer, SEC co-player of the year Meighan Simmons, to 10 points, seven below her average.

On Creighton's side, the game got off to more balanced start than it did in the first round.

In Saturday's game, Fujan scored 17 of the team's 24 points in the opening half, and ended up with a career-high 24, including six 3-pointers.

Against Tennessee, none of the team's starters reached double-digit point totals. Freshman Marissa Janning, the Bluejays' leading scorer, went 2 of 13 from the field, and Fujan missed her only 3-point attempt while scoring eight points.

Fujan said it was harder to get good looks because of Tennessee's athleticism and length, adding that “coming off a game like (Syracuse) everyone knows that you just made six 3s.”

Reserve Alexis Akin-Otiko was Creighton's leading scorer with 12 points, including six free throws.

Tennessee moves on to the Sweet 16 for the 31st time, but while the team is accustomed to postseason success it's also facing a transition period.

This season was the first at the helm for Warlick, a longtime assistant to Pat Summitt, the legendary coach who won eight national championships but stepped down after being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's.

“Creighton's just a very well-coached, very good team, and they're never out of the game,” Warlick said. “(I'm) so proud of our finish, proud of how hard we fought back. And we're just really excited to be moving on.”

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