Creighton women’s basketball coach Jim Flanery remembers sitting in the locker room with his players five seasons ago after his team was trounced by one of the most dominant programs in all of sports.
It’s no fun to get beat by 36 points. But you learn something when you go against the best.
So that night in Storrs, Connecticut, after a blowout in front of 7,000, Flanery started to sum up the experience.
“I said, ‘There’s nothing you can’t admire about the way they play,’ ” he said. “Yes, they have great players. But they also play the right way. Their approach — how hard they played and how consistently they made you uncomfortable — was really impressive.”
The Bluejays will again see that firsthand. On a more frequent basis.
UConn is set to join the Big East. It’s not yet known when the merger will happen — it won’t be before July 2020.
And when the Huskies arrive, the league will have to sort out a way to schedule its 20-game women’s hoops slate — which is, perhaps, Flanery’s biggest concern. Assigning travel partners makes perfect sense with an even number of teams. There will soon be 11, though. So questions remain.
Here’s what is certain now: In the near future, Creighton will be playing the sport’s most accomplished powerhouse at least two times per season.
The Huskies have won 11 national titles. They’ve made 20 Final Fours. They’re led by hall of fame coach Geno Auriemma, whose status resonates inside and outside the sport.
And now they’re going to be regulars on Creighton’s schedule. Flanery thinks it’s great.
“There’s a part that’s maybe a little humbling about being in a league with somebody as good as they’ve been for so long,” he said. “But the bar will be higher. They’re going to elevate our league.”
The addition of UConn was a move made mostly to benefit men’s basketball — the Big East’s viability hinges on its success in that sport. The Huskies, who have four national titles since 1999, are a national brand. They’ll elevate the conference’s profile.
But the women’s team is a behemoth, too. And for Big East women’s basketball, the addition of the Huskies may very well have an immediate impact.
The Big East ranked sixth or seventh in conference RPI in five of the past six seasons (it was 10th in 2015). UConn’s RPI during that same stretch: sixth, second, first, first, second and second.
Just by bringing the Huskies aboard, the Big East will find itself entrenched as a top-five league.
That’s something to sell on the recruiting trail. As is the chance to regularly face UConn.
“The better kids want to play against the best,” CU Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen said. “UConn coming into the league is a very attractive recruiting tool for us.”
Fans want to see the best, too.
The year that UConn joined the American Athletic Conference, eight of the other nine league teams recorded their biggest home crowds of the season when the Huskies came to town. The single- game attendance figure for the UConn game more than doubled the teams’ end-of-year attendance averages.
Nebraska’s largest women’s home crowd in the past three seasons came when Connecticut visited Pinnacle Bank Arena in 2016 — there were 7,553 in attendance.
It’s possible that Creighton would consider moving its home game against UConn from 3,000-seat Sokol Arena to the CHI Health Center, Rasmussen said.
The Jays drew 14,022 in the downtown arena for a volleyball match against Nebraska last year. He’d like CU’s women’s teams to play there more often.
Those discussions are still in the future.
But Creighton is open to thinking big. When a juggernaut like UConn is going to be a peer, you have to.
“Yes, the benchmark is high,” Rasmussen said. “But you want the benchmark high.”