The first eight games of the conference schedule reminded the Jays that wins do not come easy in the Big East. Despite being one of the top offensive teams in the conference, the Creighton women’s basketball team struggled on the defensive end and lost six games, including four by fewer than two possessions.
Creighton turned the ship in its past five games, winning each by more than two possessions.
Coach Jim Flanery believes that his team accepted some of the changes they have made during the second half of the conference season.
“As a coach you have to implement two or three things that are going to hopefully make a difference, and as players you have to actually carry out the implementation,” Flanery said.
Junior guard Marissa Janning believes the team adjusted well to all of the new schemes.
“Our willingness to adjust was really high,” Janning said. “We’ve adjusted unbelievably well and our confidence is completely different.
“We’re more motivated and determined to be a better team.”
The last four wins have been against teams the Jays lost to through the first nine games of conference play.
Flanery praised the rest of his coaching staff for its preparation before each rematch.
“My assistant coaches have done a good job of scouting and suggesting how we [should] be a little bit different in terms of how we guard, or how to be effective in ways we can score the ball,” Flanery said.
Creighton’s five-game winning streak puts the team in the thick of the conference race at 7-6 in sixth place.
On Sunday, the Jays closed the game on a 15-2 run to defeat Seton Hall 81-73 and hand the Pirates their first home loss in 20 games.
Creighton struggled during the middle of the second half. The Jays missed 12-straight shots and committed seven turnovers from the 14:41 to the 4:54 mark.
During that span, Janning made three of
four free throws to slow the Pirates’ momentum. “When [Janning went] to the free throw line those couple of possessions in a row, I think [it] really helped settle us down, cap their momentum [and] give us a little bit of a break,” sophomore guard MC McGrory said. “[It] gave us a chance to refocus and finish off the game strong.”
Sophomore Brianna Rollerson ended the field goal drought with a lay-up with just less than five minutes to play.
Creighton made four of its final seven shots to end Sunday’s game.
The Jays also made 18 of 20 shots from the free throw line in the second half and held Seton Hall to one field goal in its last 10 shot attempts.
Creighton made five of its first six 3-point attempts and jumped out to a 22-4 start Friday night in Queens, New York before defeating the St. John’s Red Storm 75-50.
The Red Storm limited the Jays to only 38 points in 40 minutes on Jan. 11 at D.J. Sokol Arena, but Creighton scored 39 points in the first half on Friday.
“The first time we played St. John’s, we were on a three-game losing streak,” Flanery said. “That factors into how that game played out because we were only down three at the half, but I just think our confidence wasn’t what it was [Friday].”
Because of the way the Jays played through the first half of the conference schedule, Janning said the two wins against the Pirates and Red Storm are two of the biggest wins of her Creighton career.
“Given the circumstances that we were in this year those were two of the biggest back-to- back wins I’ve been involved with,” Janning said. “To beat Seton Hall was huge, [but] beating St. John’s was big too. Those are two great teams.”
One reason for the Bluejays’ recent success is the changing of roles at the guard position. Janning is now the team’s point guard after playing at the shooting guard position through the first portion of the season.
“Moving Marissa to point guard has probably helped her, and in turn, that has helped us,” Flanery said.
Janning leads the team in scoring, assists and minutes per game.
McGrory moved from the point guard positon to the off guard. Flanery said that McGrory’s new position allows her to improve defensively and opens her chances for driving to the bucket.
“In some ways I think [Marissa and I] swapped positions,” McGrory said. “She was guarding the point guard, and I was playing the point guard. And now I’m guarding the point guard, and she’s playing point guard.”
McGrory scored 22 points and finished with 10 rebounds and two steals during last weekend’s road trip.
In addition to Janning’s leadership at the point guard position, senior forward Alexis Akin-Otiko has emerged as a leader. With the loss of senior Sammy Jensen and redshirt-junior Taylor Johnson to injury, Akin-Otiko is the only player on Creighton’s roster in her fourth year of college experience.
Akin-Otiko never started a game before this season, but has started all 24 games during 2014-2015.
“Alexis’ role is way more expanded than it has been at any point in her career,” Flanery said.
The Bellevue West graduate has not backed away from her new title as the Jays’ starting senior forward. Akin-Otiko is second on the team in scoring and rebounding, averaging 13.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.
She finished Sunday with 20 points and 10 rebounds for her fourth double-double of the season.
“She keeps getting better, and that often doesn’t happen for seniors,” Flanery said. “I think she has become a more comfortable leader.
“I like how both [Janning and Akin-Otiko] have stepped up their willingness to lead, be tough and keep younger players confident and composed,” Flanery said.
Janning and Akin-Otiko plan to guide Creighton through its final five games of the regular season, including three at home.
“I think we’re still motivated and want to continue to play hard,” Janning said.
The Jays begin their final portion of the season and plan to extend their winning streak against Providence (5-19, 2-11 Big East) on Sunday afternoon. Tip-off for the annual Pink Out game is scheduled for 1:05 p.m.