GREENSBORO, N.C. — Surprising Creighton is on the NCAA Tournament run of a lifetime. The only thing standing in the way of a first trip to the Final Four is No. 1 South Carolina and the nation’s most dominant player in Aliyah Boston.
The 10th-seeded Bluejays (23-9) believe they’re ready for that next, very huge step.
“I think what we have done already proves that we can be here,” Creighton senior Payton Brotzki said Saturday. “It’s obviously, a tough task, but I think we can trust in our preparation, our coaching, and just the faith and confidence we have in each other.”
So far, that’s carried Creighton as far as any double-digit seed in NCAA history except No. 11 seed Gonzaga, which reached the regional finals in 2011 before falling to Stanford.
South Dakota, a 10th seed in the Wichita Region, plays No. 3 seed Michigan on Saturday night for a spot in the Elite Eight.
If Creighton pulls it off, the win would surely join the list of biggest college upsets ever like tiny Chaminade on the men’s side defeating powerful top-ranked Virginia and star Ralph Sampson in 1982 or Appalachian State FCS football taking down fifth-ranked Michigan at the Big House in 2007.
Creighton coach Jim Flanery sees a chance, not unlike how 15th-seeded St. Peter’s beat Kentucky and Purdue on the way to men’s Elite Eight.
“I think we’re unconventional enough offensively ,” Flanery said, “to create some issues for them.”
South Carolina, led by the 6-foot-5 Boston, has answered every challenge this season. The Gamecocks (32-2) have gone 12-0 against ranked opponents this year after defeating No. 17 North Carolina 69-61 here Friday night. That total includes wins over a pair of remaining No. 1 tournament seeds in North Carolina State and Stanford.
“I don’t think we can get caught up in anything but what we have within our team,” said Zia Cooke, South Carolina’s third leading scorer at 11 points a game. “I know Creighton, they have great shooters. They’re super aggressive. So we are preparing for that.”
Creighton has already defeated No. 2 seed Iowa and No. 3 seed Iowa State, taking a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter on the Cyclones in a 76-68 Sweet 16 win Friday night.
The Bluejays use a motion attack that forces opponents to guard the perimeter or pay. They lead the country in assists at more than 20 a game and are second nationally with 10.3 3-pointers per contest.
It’s an effective, and necessary, style given Creighton’s lack of size. The Bluejays don’t have a player than 6-1. South Carolina has seven at least that tall – on the bench.
“Clearly, we don’t have that,” Bluejays junior forward Carly Bachelor, all of six-feet, said.
“But I also think that’s a strength of ours,” Bachelor continued, “not having to rely on size and just everybody being able to shoot and cut and score.”
Boston can shoot and cut and score, along with rebound. She went for 28 points and 22 rebounds in the North Carolina win, her 27th straight double-double. She also hit 12 of 13 foul shots and scored all 13 points for South Carolina in the fourth quarter to hold back the Tar Heels.
The self-effacing, modest Boston will not brag on herself, only works to get better and help the Gamecocks achieve their much stated season’s goal of a national championship. “That’s been our main focus the entire season,” she said.
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley has seen true growth from her superstar this season, both on and off the court. Her first two seasons, Staley said, Boston was largely about “books, basketball, and really, Netflix and taking naps.”
Boston has evolved, Staley says, to become more social and outgoing, finding a successful balance this season to success and fun.
Cooke watched Boston’s game against North Carolina and was amazed at her dominance and effort at the most crucial of times.
“I think she surprises us each and every day,” Cooke said. “She continues to make history.”