The Creighton women’s basketball team ranks third in the Big East in points-per-game, but sits seventh in the league in scoring defense and sixth place in the standings at the midway point of the conference schedule.
At 10-10 overall and 3-6 through the first nine games of the Big East slate, Creighton is minus-2.1 in scoring margin. Four of the Jays’ six losses have been by fewer than two possessions.
“Other than one half against DePaul and one half against St. John’s, we’ve been competitive in every half we’ve played,” coach Jim Flanery said.
“We have to make a jump defensively, and as a staff we have to figure out what works best for our personnel and our level of experience. If we can do that, we can shrink that 2.1 gap and be a much better team the second half.”
Part of the reason for the close losses is that the Jays have allowed opponents to shoot at a high percentage. Creighton ranks ninth in the conference in field goal defense and last in the Big East in 3-point field goal percentage defense.
“We have some deficiencies in terms of staying in front of the ball one-on-one,” Flanery said. “We just need to become a better help team defensively.”
Creighton ended the first half of the Big East schedule with wins on the road against Providence and Marquette split by a set-back to DePaul.
Senior forward Alexis Akin-Otiko had 28 points and 12 rebounds, and the Jays scored 59 second-half points in a 93-75 victory over Marquette Sunday.
The Jays allowed DePaul to shoot 47.5 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from 3-point territory in a 96-71 loss Saturday.
“We’re definitely better than where we started,” junior Marissa Janning said. “I think we’ve finally started to figure things out, but there’s still a lot that we need to fix, especially defensively.”
Prior to the three-game road trip, the Jays had lost four-straight after winning their second conference game of the season against Georgetown on Dec. 31.
“We’ve lost a few close games, but overall we know what we need to do the second time around,” freshman guard Bailey Norby said.
Offensively, the Jays have found multiple contributors. Janning, the Preseason Big East Player of the Year, leads the Jays with 15.8 points per contest, but a total of four Bluejays average more than nine points per game.
After leading the league in points and earning Big East Player of the Year during her sophomore season, teams have focused on trying to slow down Janning’s game, but she has found ways to score, and others have stepped-up throughout the season. Each of the four leading scorers has led the Jays in scoring during at least one game this season.
“A lot of people put a lot of energy into stopping Marissa,” Flanery said, “and I think that we’ve proven to be balanced enough to make up for that with the kind of year Lex, Sydney and MC [McGrory] are having.”
Creighton also managed to take care of the basketball through the first 20 games of the season. The Jays rank third in the Big East with a plus-1.3 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Because of a pair of knee injuries to seniors Taylor Johnson and Sammy Jensen during the early stages of conference play, all five of Creighton’s freshmen contributed to the normal rotations throughout the month of January.
Freshman guard Sydney Lamberty has started 15 games for the Jays and leads the Big East with a 2.9 assist-to-turnover ratio. She also averages 9.8 points and 4.0 rebounds per game.
With the loss of the starting point guard, Jensen, guard Jade Owens average more than 15 minutes per game.
Norby averages 9.3 minutes per game, while forward Kylie Brown averages 4.5 and guard Myah Mellman averages 3.7.
“Hopefully those kids are more confident in February than they were in early to mid-January based on their opportunities,” Flanery said.
To open the second-half of the Big East schedule, Creighton hosts Xavier on Friday and Butler on Sunday.
The Jays fell 66-65 at Xavier on Jan. 2. Creighton led by four with under a minute to play, but the Musketeers made a 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock and converted a coast-to-coast opportunity in the final seconds.
Lamberty led the Jays with 13 points and seven assists, but Xavier shot 44 percent from the field.
The Musketeers are coming off a pair of losses to Butler and Villanova.
Butler defeated Creighton 63-58 on Jan. 4.
The Jays are 2-5 in January, but 0-2 at D.J. Sokol Arena.
“On the bright side, we’ve won two out of our last three road games; and to get two at home to start the second half is a great opportunity.”
Tip-off for Friday’s game is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.