A change in roles has seemingly put some zip back into Creighton center Will Artino's game.
The 6-foot-11 junior came off the bench in Sunday's 82-67 rout of Nebraska to contribute four points and seven rebounds for the Bluejays (7-2). He had a season-high 13 points, also in a reserve role, in Creighton's win over Long Beach State.
“Will has played with a lot of confidence off the bench,” Creighton forward Doug McDermott said. “He gives us energy, and we're going to need that from him the rest of the way.
“He just plays better off the bench. I've talked to him a lot about it, and he's fine with it. “
Artino started Creighton's first seven games at center and averaged 5.7 points and 3.0 rebounds. He struggled in the Bluejays' three games at the Wooden Legacy tournament, grabbing just three rebounds while scoring 10 points.
Creighton coach Greg McDermott juggled things for his team's final game in California by moving senior Ethan Wragge into the starting lineup for the Long Beach State game. Wragge responded by scoring 15 points in the 78-61 victory.
Wragge also started against Nebraska, scoring 16 points and grabbing a career-high nine rebounds. He added two assists and one steal as the Bluejays posted their third straight win over the Huskers.
Greg McDermott said which player starts at center remains a game-to-game thing, but he likes what Artino has done since returning to the bench.
“The two games he's come off the bench, Will has certainly rebounded better than when he was starting,” the coach said. “I'm not into who starts — that never has really been a big deal to me.
“The way we were playing in California, we just felt we needed to get our five best players on the court at the start. Ethan is one of those five, and it's worked so far. I'm not going to say we're going to keep it that way for the rest of the season, but for right now, it's working well.”
Artino spent the past two seasons as Gregory Echenique's backup at center. He averaged 2.9 points and 2.1 rebounds while playing 7.2 minutes as a redshirt freshman in 2011-12.
Last season, Artino averaged 7.9 minutes, 3.9 points and 2.5 rebounds, but he played particularly well the second half of the season. He averaged 5.6 points while playing in 12 of Creighton's final 13 games — he missed the NCAA tournament game against Cincinnati with a bad ankle.
Artino shot 64.6 percent from the field for the season and 68.4 percent in his final 12 games.
With Echenique gone, Artino took over the starting spot at center. He said Monday that his up-and-down play in the first month of the season might have been the result of putting too much pressure on himself.
He smiled when told he just looks more comfortable on the court when he comes off the bench rather than when he starts.
“Coach Mac sat down and talked with me, and he basically told me I need to get back to where I was doing what I did last year,” Artino said. “I feel coming off the bench these last two games, I didn't put as much pressure on myself.
“I just went in and tried to make things happen, which is what I tried to do the past two seasons. When I was starting, I don't know if I was playing as aggressively as I do when I come off the bench.”
That difference was underscored in the Long Beach State game. In a loss to George Washington two days before, Artino played nine minutes, scored two points and grabbed one rebound.
On the second possession after entering the game against Long Beach, Artino grabbed an offensive rebound and dunked. He beat the defense down the court on the next possession for a fast-break layup. After the 49ers turned the ball over, Artino scored on another dunk.
His three quick baskets turned a 14-11 lead into a nine-point advantage in the span of 57 seconds.
“I just felt a lot better against Long Beach than I had when I was starting,” Artino said. “I don't think I even realized how I was playing until that.
“If I can just keep bringing energy, I really don't care how Coach uses me.”
McDermott gets league honor
Another week, another honor for Doug McDermott.
The Big East selected the Creighton forward as its player of the week after McDermott averaged 27 points and six rebounds in lopsided victories over Long Beach State and Nebraska.
McDermott has won the Big East award in three of the season's first four weeks. He earned 13 Missouri Valley player of the week honors the past three seasons, and was named that league's newcomer of the week seven times during his freshman season in 2009-10.
All told, McDermott has been honored in 23 of the 53 weeks he's played college basketball.