LINCOLN — To start the second half against Nebraska, Creighton women's basketball coach Jim Flanery drew up an open 3-point look for one of his best players, forward Sarah Nelson. She got the ball. She shot the ball.
“She left it like three — I don't know how — I've never seen a ball end up that short,” Flanery said.
Poor shooting can send a coach searching for words. It left the Bluejays bruised in a 63-38 loss to the No. 19 Huskers. The 38 points were CU's lowest offensive output against its in-state rival since 1975. Or, if you're an NU fan, the best defensive performance against the in-state rival since 1975.
That's how Nebraska coach Connie Yori — a former Creighton player and coach — preferred to see it.
“A lot of their shots, we made them miss,” she said. “We didn't give them a ton of open looks. There were a lot of challenged 3s, there were a lot of deep 3s.”
This is true. Long Creighton shots, spinning in the air, awaiting blunt force trauma with the rim. CU shot 23 percent for the game and 11 percent — that's 4 for 35 — in the second half. Its best shooters, guards Marissa Janning and McKenzie Fujan, combined for just 13 points, making 5 of 26 shots and 3 of 16 from 3-point range. The Bluejays (4-5) made 7 of 31 from beyond the arc and they barely fared better inside of it, as Nebraska (8-2) patrolled the paint with six blocks and stifling interior defense.
“We made very few defensive errors,” Yori said.
Creighton's defense on NU leading scorer Jordan Hooper was equally good. Hooper, who came in averaging 21.6 points per game, scored just five points on seven shots. But the Huskers didn't try to force the ball to her. Instead, junior forwards Emily Cady (14 points) and Hailie Sample (13 points) were primary options. Guard Brandi Jeffery chipped in 11 points.
Yori redesigned some of her offense for the game to attack the middle of the floor. As Hooper attracted attention on the baseline, Nebraska ran screens to free up a guard who'd either get to the hoop or dish to Sample and Cady. NU shot 19 free throws to CU's 2 as a result.
“It's a little bit of a chess match when you play Creighton, and I thought our players did a good job of knowing what we were looking for,” Yori said. “We're not perfect on offense, but I thought we tried to go to the right people at the right time. That's why I thought we were the attackers.”
On defense, Jeffery said, Nebraska tried to push Janning and Fujan just a little farther out than normal while making entry passes to forwards Nelson and Alyssa Kamphaus too risky to attempt.
“We played closer to their range,” Jeffery said. “We helped inside a little, but not too far to give an open 3. I felt like we did pretty good.”
It didn't hurt that Creighton's currently experiencing a major dry spell. In recent losses to Oklahoma and BYU, CU hit just 15 of 56 (26.8 percent) from beyond the arc. Though Janning hit two early 3s, Creighton never found its footing.
“Coaches always say 'I gotta watch the film first' — that's the default we use — but I thought we got pretty good looks,” Flanery said. “In fact, a couple of the early ones we hit weren't as clean as the looks we got later.”
Nebraska led 35-27 at halftime thanks to repeated, consistent drives to the basket, which led to 54 percent shooting. Though Hooper — purposely blanketed by the Bluejay defense — missed all four of her shots in the first half, the Huskers didn't dwell on getting her the ball. Cady and Sample each scored nine points and guard Jeffery controlled the final five minutes of the first half with six points and four assists.
NU then started the second half on a 10-0 run. Creighton didn't make its first shot until the 13:56 mark of the second half, when Sammy Jensen hit a 3-pointer. By then, the deficit was too big — and CU's shots were too wayward — to mount a serious comeback.
It left Flanery facing a room full of a reporters after a game he'd rather forget.
“I don't like looking at the biggest media group of the year after a game like that,” Flanery said. “I'd rather walk in and have two people here.”