Saturday, the Creighton Bluejays (7-6) returned to the friendly confines of D.J. Sokol Arena for the first time since falling to BYU on December 7. Marissa Janning, McKenzie Fujan and Sarah Nelson combined for 51 of the team's points in the inaugural BIG EAST Conference game versus Villanova (9-2) that the Jays won 65-58.
In the opening 20 minutes, Creighton raced out to a 12-4 lead on the shoulders of Janning, who had seven points during the early run. Trailing most of the half, the Wildcats took to the paint and got heavy bench contributions, taking a 29-26 lead to the half. Although the Jays gave up 14 points in the paint during the first half, part of that may have been by design.
"Good win against a good team," said Creighton coach Jim Flanery. "We tried to take away the three from them, which turned into them driving it a lot on us."
Villanova outscored the White and Blue 14-8 in the paint, and 18-7 via the bench. Wildcat reserve Katherine Coyer scored nine points before intermission. Defensively, CU struggled to consistently stop VU, which shot 52.2 percent for the half.
Like the first half, the Bluejays started fast with an 11-point run that turned a three-point deficit into a eight-point lead with 14:38 remaining. Creighton lead by as many as 12 points after a Fujan jumper made it 56-44 at the 5:38 mark. The Jays got to the basket early and often in the second half, outscoring ‘Nova 14-12 in the paint.
"We started out both halves on fire and concentrating well, in the first half we got turnovers and rebounds," said Fujan.
Things tightened up in the final five minutes, as the Villanova pressure forced Creighton into a handful of turnovers, which got Harry Perretta's squad to within two points. Flanery was not pleased with the way his team closed the game but did find one positive to take away.
"We need to work on closing out games better… struggled with the press today, but on the bright side it gave us a taste of what Georgetown will do to us next," said the Jays coach.
After the Wildcats cut the Jays lead two points on the next possession, Fujan hit the shot of the game. With the shot clock winding down, Fujan launched a long three from in front of the CU bench that banked in and put the Bluejays up five with 48 seconds remaining. The former Wahoo Bishop Neumann star may not have called the bank, but she will enjoy the result anyways.
"I didn't think it had a chance to go in when I released it, but I did know I was in my range and it turned out to be a big shot," said Fujan.
With Creighton holding on tightly to a three-point lead, Lauren Works finished the ‘Cats off by going 4-for-4 at the line, giving her seven points in the contest. Saturday's clutch performance prompted Creighton's coach to give a positive review of the freshman from Lincoln following the win.
"Really proud of how Lauren closed out the game from the line and how she continues to help us out," stated Flanery.
Janning finished with a game-high 19 points, Fujan added 17 and Nelson had 15 points as Creighton's "Big 3" helped carry the team to the historic win in the first BIG EAST game for the women's program.
"When we're all clicking and on the floor together, it makes things real tough for defenders," said Janning. "If we can just stay consistent with that, we'll continue to make it tough for our opponents."
CU could use another strong showing from Janning, Fujan and Nelson when they make a midweek trip to Georgetown for 3 p.m. game on New Year's Day before returning home Saturday, January 4 against DePaul. The contest against the Blue Demons can also be seen on Fox Sports 1 for those unable to make the game in Omaha.
Creighton opens BIG EAST play on Saturday when the conference-leading Wildcats head to town…