Creighton's 3-point success concerns Lady Vols
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP)
''Any team that shoots the 3 is difficult for us,'' Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. ''We've had difficulty guarding it all year.''
They'll need to guard it all night Monday.
The Bluejays (25-7) rank second nationally with 9.3 baskets from 3-point range per game. Just over 45 percent of 10th-seeded Creighton's shots this season have been from beyond the arc. Creighton shot 11 of 36 on 3-pointers Saturday to beat Syracuse 61-56 in the first round of the Oklahoma City Regional.
Tennessee's only previous opponent that depended nearly as much on its 3-point attack was Missouri, the lone non-NCAA tournament team to beat the Lady Vols this season. Tennessee ranks 10th out of 14 Southeastern Conference teams in 3-point field-goal percentage defense (.303).
The second-seeded Lady Vols (25-7) trounced Missouri 84-39 on Jan. 10 at Thompson-Boling Arena, but Missouri surprised Tennessee 80-63 by shooting 11 of 24 from 3-point range Feb. 3 at Columbia. Missouri averaged 8.2 3-pointers per game this season and entered the postseason tournaments tied for seventh in that category.
Creighton coach Jim Flanery said Sunday he hadn't watched Tennessee's Jan. 10 blowout of Missouri, but he studied Missouri's victory in the rematch quite a bit. Flanery made sure to get the tape of that game once he knew Tennessee was a possible second-round opponent.
Flanery noticed how Tennessee's defense struggled when Missouri effectively set multiple screens for its shooters and maintained long possessions.
''That's our chance, is to do what they did in terms of making Tennessee guard for more than two passes,'' Flanery said. ''That's the first film I said we needed to watch.''
The Lady Vols see plenty of similarities between Creighton and Missouri. They know what they did right the first Missouri game and what they did wrong in the rematch. They believe the lessons learned will pay off Monday.
''The first game, we dictated (to) them,'' Tennessee guard Ariel Massengale said. ''We made them play our game. The second game, we let them dictate the tempo and style of play and let them do whatever they wanted to do on offense. Here, they were getting contested shots. There, they were getting wide-open shots.''
Creighton's dependence on the 3-pointer is partially out of necessity.
''I love our post players, but we're not going to get (Syracuse star center) Kayla Alexander or some of Tennessee's posts,'' Flanery said. ''It's easier to get good guards at Creighton than it is to get the 6-3 post who can just overpower you or dominate a game in certain ways. That's always had to be our M.O. ''
Flanery instead has recruited post players such as 6-foot junior forward Sarah Nelson, whose versatility makes up for her relative lack of height. Nelson is one of six Creighton players with at least 24 3-point baskets and 74 3-point attempts this season. For comparison's sake, Tennessee has three players with that many 3-point baskets or attempts.
Creighton needed to rely on the 3-pointer even more than Flanery expected this season. Junior guard Carli Tritz, the Missouri Valley Conference preseason player of the year, has an arthritic knee that has limited her driving ability. Flanery said freshman guard and leading scorer Marissa Janning would probably become a better finisher as she adds strength.
''Honestly, we haven't been as good inside the line as maybe I thought, but we've clearly been better outside the line,'' Flanery said.
Creighton will need to make its 3-point shots to compensate for its height deficiencies. Alyssa Kamphaus, a 6-foot-3 junior center, is the only Creighton player taller than 6 feet. Tennessee's rotation includes 6-2 forward/center Bashaara Graves, 6-2 forward Cierra Burdick, 6-1 forward Taber Spani, 6-3 center Isabelle Harrison and 6-2 forward Jasmine Jones.
''We obviously have the height advantage,'' Warlick said, ''and we plan on using it.''
Creighton already has shown it can overcome its lack of size. The Bluejays outrebounded a taller Syracuse team 43-35 on Saturday. The Syracuse game also suggests Creighton won't panic if its shots aren't falling early.
The Bluejays missed their first eight 3-point attempts Saturday, but they kept firing away and eventually earned their first NCAA tournament victory since 1994. Beating Tennessee would send Creighton to the regional semifinals for the first time ever.
''I don't think we're going to be rattled or nervous or anything,'' Creighton guard Ally Jensen said. ''We're excited for the opportunity and believe that we have a chance to win the game.''