A meeting of old rivals comes with far different stakes for the Creighton and Drake women’s basketball teams.
Friday night’s season opener at the Knapp Center in Des Moines carries no late-season championship implications, as did some of the previous matchups when the teams were both in the Missouri Valley.
Instead, the Bluejays and the Bulldogs will be looking to grab a little early-season momentum in the nonconference game.
“It’s going to be a big game for us because our schedule is tough,’’ Creighton coach Jim Flanery said. “We have to get off to a good start. Last year, to win our first road game at South Dakota, was huge.
“It wasn’t pretty, but it was big for our confidence going forward. This one will be big, too.’’
Creighton, with a veteran lineup that includes four starters returning from last season’s NCAA tournament team, is beginning a season filled with great expectations as it moves to the new Big East. The Bluejays have been picked second in the preseason poll and are receiving votes in both the major polls.
Drake also returns four starters from a team that went 11-20 last season. The Bulldogs were picked fourth in the Valley’s preseason poll.
Creighton tuned up for its opening game with Monday’s 30-point victory over Division II Fort Hays State. Flanery did some experimenting in the exhibition game, using some rotations that featured post players Sarah Nelson, Alexis Akin-Otiko and Brianna Rollerson on the floor at the same time.
That’s a change for a team that often played four-guard lineups in getting to the NCAA tournament each of the past two seasons. Creighton did lose starting guard Ally Jensen off last season’s team, while Carli Tritz announced in September that she was giving up basketball because of an arthritic knee.
The Bluejays also are without freshman guard MC McCrory, who has been sidelined for almost three weeks by a concussion.
“We decided to look at the three-post offense after we found out MC was going to be out a little longer than expected,’’ Flanery said. “She’s one of our bigger, stronger guards.
“We don’t have a big enough sample size to know if it’s going to work, but I think we can use it a little bit.’’
Rollerson, a redshirt freshman, and guard Marissa Janning are excited about the possible benefits that could come from playing three post players at the same time.
“It makes us harder to guard,’’ said Rollerson, who scored 16 points in the exhibition. “Most of our posts pass well, so it’s good to get on the perimeter and open things up.’’
Nelson had the most assists (115) by a post player in the country last season. Rollerson also is an adept passer, Janning said, that should complement Nelson’s ability.
“When Bri is in there, she can pass to Sarah and Lex (Akin-Otiko) on cuts, and there won’t be a 3 (player) in the country that can guard them,’’ Janning said. “It’s a rotation that should help us a lot.’’
Janning is Creighton’s top returning scorer after averaging 12.6 points per game as a freshman. She is intent on improving her distribution skills as the Bluejays’ point guard after recording 80 assists against 74 turnovers last season.
“That was the stat I was afraid to look at each night last year,’’ said Janning, referring to her assists-to-turnovers ratio. “I really need to focus on my decision-making this year.’’
NOTES: Creighton is 5-6 in season-opening games under Flanery and has won just once in the six games it has opened on the road on his watch. Overall, Creighton is 17-22 in its first game of the season, but just 4-15 on the road. … The Bluejays have won seven of the last 10 meetings with Drake but trail in the series 37-24. … McKenzie Fujan enters the season with a streak of 26 consecutive made free throws but went 3 of 8 from the line in the exhibition game. Fujan’s last missed free throw came against Drake last Feb. 2. Akin-Otiko has made her last 18 shots from the line.