In the long, storied history of UConn men’s basketball, the Huskies have never once beaten their conference foe in the Creighton Bluejays.
Let’s put things in perspective. UConn is just 0-4 against them, only having played Creighton since the Huskies’ return to the Big East Conference last year. The two schools had never met before, as UConn left while Creighton joined the conference back in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
This leaves us with four games, three last year (one in the Big East Tournament) and one this year, a UConn home loss at the XL Center. After that game, head coach Dan Hurley was asked if there was something about the Bluejays that made them so tough to beat.
“I don’t think so,” Hurley responded. “They scored 59 points here [on Feb. 1] in a rockfight. The Big East Tournament game was a low scoring game, so [the games] haven’t exactly been offensive outbursts. They’re tough to beat, Greg [McDermott] does a good job. They’ve got a great culture over there.”
That game back in early February may be remembered as the “Isaiah Whaley game” to UConn fans. While many Huskies struggled on offense, the Bluejays really forced the big man to take on a role he really hadn’t played before, namely to be the top scoring option on a typically deep team. In that contest, Whaley set personal highs in points, field goals made, 3-point attempts and three-point makes. While he was one of the only true offensive producers that night — guard RJ Cole also has a case — Whaley’s 8-for-13 shooting was not enough to put UConn over the edge in the 59-55 loss.
On the other side of the court, it was Ryan Hawkins who stole the show. The Bluejays’ leading scorer, Hawkins broke out for a 23-point performance on an astounding 8-for-12 shooting alongside 11 rebounds. Both he and Whaley were the only two players that shot over 50%, regardless of minimum takes.
So what’s different in this one? For starters, Creighton has the home-field advantage come Wednesday night. One thing they are lacking, however, is the presence of freshman Ryan Nembhard, who will miss the rest of the season with a wrist injury. This is a big blow to the Bluejays. Not only did Nembhard contribute through his 11.3 points per game, he also led the team in assists and steals per game with 4.4 and 1.3, respectively.
After going on a solid six-game win streak, Creighton finally fell to Providence last Saturday. They are coming off a loss, while the Huskies are riding a five game win streak, just like the last matchup between these two teams.
This time, UConn should be prepared. While its offense was absolutely rolling in a blowout win over Georgetown on Sunday, Creighton boasts the third-highest defensive efficiency among the Huskies’ 2021-2022 opponents, according to the KenPom ratings. There’s a reason that Connecticut has an average points scored of 63 (one of those games went into overtime as well) against the Bluejays all-time – they play tight defense.
So who’s going to step up for the Huskies? At the time of their last matchup, Creighton coach Greg McDermott was pleased with his team’s coverage of Whaley, as in letting him take open threes, so unless the game plan has changed post-Nembhard, expect the same light defense on him. RJ Cole has been nothing but solid all year long, save maybe two games, so expect him to play a major role as always.
All-conference-caliber forward Adama Sanogo has been playing up to his identity as of late against NCAA Tournament-quality teams, but only when he’s stayed out of foul trouble. If Sanogo can stay in this one for 30-plus minutes, he should provide a major boost as always. He shot a weak 3-for-10 from the field in UConn’s last matchup against the Bluejays, so look for him to try to improve upon that Wednesday.
One of the biggest stories heading into this one will be the adjustment of bench players Tyler Polley and Jordan Hawkins. Each part of the duo have had up-and-down seasons, but are averaging a combined 18.7 points per game over the last three contests. In the Creighton game last month, they combined for two points on 0-for-7 shooting. UConn is certainly looking for them to redeem themselves this time around, and hopefully build some momentum before the tournaments.
But the Bluejays have plenty to play for as well. While TeamRankings has Creighton at a 95.7 percent chance at making the NCAA Tournament this year, they would guarantee a spot with another top-25 win against a team like UConn. While a No. 10 seed is the most likely option right now, stringing together another win streak could get the Bluejays a better seeding come Selection Sunday.
Tip-off is set for 8:30 p.m., Wednesday in Omaha, Nebraska. The game will be broadcast live on FS1.