Survive and advance. That’s the motto of the NCAA tournament, and no one embodied it in this opening round quite like Creighton.
The Bluejays struggled to score against Alabama’s stifling defense throughout much of the game before their defense finally settled in down the stretch, spurring a 14-0 run that allowed them to open up a 57-50 lead with just under three minutes left.
But that was the end of Creighton’s great play. The Bluejays missed consecutive contested jumpers before bricking four of their five free throws down the stretch. It allowed Alabama to gain possession of the ball with less than ten seconds left, down just one. And, once again, Creighton survived as the Bluejays got away with what appeared to be a fairly clear foul on the would-be game-winning jumper.
Alabama probably has a right to be upset, and while the no-call was not as egregious as what happened at the end of the Syracuse game, I’m sure there will be some vitriol spewed in Birmingham tonight.
But in the end, it will be Creighton advancing to face, in all likelihood, North Carolina.
And if the Bluejays are going to have any chance to beat the Tar Heels, they are going to have to defend the same way they defended Alabama down the stretch. Creighton used a zone to slow down the Crimson Tide, and it was quite effective. Alabama stopped getting open looks from three, penetration was harder to come by and JaMychal Green was unable to get isolated on the block.
As I’m sure you are well aware, the Heels have one of the most high-powered offenses in the country. Creighton can score as well, but trying to outgun the Heels is a risky proposition.
It also should be noted that the hero in this game for Creighton is Grant Gibbs, who is one of the most underrated glue-guys in the country. He scored eight of his ten points in the second half as Creighton dug out of a double-digit hole. He had three of his four assists in the game-deciding run. He made a couple of key defensive plays down the stretch.
Creighton is going to need a lot more of that on Sunday.