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February 21, 2013Although Creighton defeated Missouri-Valley-Conference rival Southern Illinois by a 59-45 margin on Tuesday night, the win didn't seem to satisfy the Bluejays' coaching staff or players.
"Apologize for the delay, we just needed to have a little talk," said the Bluejays' late-arriving coach as he got seated for his post-game press conference in the CenturyLink Center. Head Coach Greg McDermott mentioned that he found solace in the victory and the way his team defended, holding SIU's leading scorer, Desmar Jackson to five points on 1-of-9 shooting, but still noticed something missing on the other end.
"We were obviously a little out of sync offensively for a good portion of the game, and we have got to find a way to get that swagger back. Our message in the locker room was we've got to find a way to capture the enthusiasm and enjoyment with which these guys have played with each other in the past."
The Bluejays allowed Barry Hinson's squad - arguably the weakest in the Valley - to hang around until the final 11 minutes of the game, when Creighton extended its lead to 10 for the first time. The Salukis dictated tempo and slowed the game down to a pace that favored the underdog. Although it doesn't make for beautiful basketball, it was precisely what Hinson wanted to see.
"It's exactly what we wanted," said Hinson, on the pace of the play. "I told them 'Make it the most boring game you've ever seen, make it the worst B movie you've ever watched.' I said 'Make it where its the worst food, they get up, they don't want to tip the waiter.' I came up with every analogy I could. I said 'Make it just awful.'"
With the game being played at a decelerated speed, each Bluejay possession increased in value. The Bluejays, however, failed to reestablish the rhythm and flow that made the CU offense one of the most efficient in the country earlier in the season. The Bluejays finished with 16 assists to 15 turnovers, numbers that Grant Gibbs thinks can be fixed with a change in outlook.
"Some of it is the way teams are playing us, but, you know, the other end of it is kind of people trying to force their own action when our strength is playing off each other, making the extra pass, and getting those great shots," said Gibbs. "That's kind of been the story with us offensively lately. It's just a mindset thing, looking for your teammate and passing up good shots to get great shots. That's always kind of been our thing, and we can get back to that easy. It's just a matter of changing our mindset."
The Bluejays saving grace in a sloppy game came off the bench. Sophomore Will Artino continued to show improvement, making all six of his attempts from the field, and leading the Bluejays in scoring, alongside Gibbs, with 13 points. Artino has seen his minutes ebb and flow, but has tried to keep mentally ready.
"The coaches have preached all year to the bench players about just being ready when your number is called. You never know when it's going to come, or how many minutes you're going to play, or whatever it is," said the 6-foot-11 sophomores.
"That's the one thing I've tried to do, not get too down if I'm not playing a lot and not get too high if I'm playing a lot.
Even though Creighton has, at least, partially rebounded from a tough stretch by winning back-to-back games, they're still in search of the mojo that made them feared nationally earlier in the season. The wins may have allowed the Bluejays to breath a sigh of relief as far as NCAA tournament at-large bids are concerned, but a lackadaisical approach is exactly what Coach McDermott needs his team to avoid. It appears that one of the team's most vocal leaders received the post-game message loud and clear.
"From the standpoint of us, as players, we got to demand a little bit more of each other, and that's something we've always struggled with, but, you know, there's not a lot of time left to fix it," said Gibbs. "I think each individual kind of understands that it's do or die as far as making those changes. It's now or that moment is going to pass, and we are going to regret it forever."
After a day off on Wednesday, the Bluejays will return to practice on Thursday in anticipation of Saturday's "Bracket Buster" game against a solid Saint Mary's squad. The Gaels sit at 22-5 before hosting BYU on Thursday. Departing Moraga with a win with a national-television audience watching would certainly help the Bluejays return home with a sense of satisfaction.