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UND WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: Bluejays push past Sioux

Creighton women's basketball coach Jim Flanery prefers to employ a full-court pressure defense. When the 10-year head coach saw his matchup against UND, choosing his defensive strategy was even easier. "We start 5-10, 6-foot in the post," Flanery...

Creighton women's basketball coach Jim Flanery prefers to employ a full-court pressure defense.

When the 10-year head coach saw his matchup against UND, choosing his defensive strategy was even easier.

"We start 5-10, 6-foot in the post," Flanery said. "We were going to struggle to guard (UND) in the halfcourt. That made us commit to the press even more."

The Bluejays cranked up the defensive intensity and the in-your-face style eventually wore down the Sioux in a season-opening 72-54 victory in front of 1,828 on Friday at the Betty Englestad Sioux Center.

The Creighton pressure -- hoping to offset the height of UND's 6-foot-4 centers Allyssa Wall and Emily Evers -- forced the Sioux into 21 turnovers, which the Bluejays turned into 21 points. UND, meanwhile, scored just 11 points off turnovers.

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"I just think we're a young basketball team," UND coach Gene Roebuck said. "We have to learn to play within ourselves for 40 minutes. We played in spurts well, but give Creighton credit. They took us away from the basket a little more than we liked. They played good man defense."

UND's guards handled the pressure well early on as Creighton didn't have a lead for the game's first 10 minutes.

"My philosophy is the press is a cumulative effect over 40 minutes," said Flanery, whose team was picked to finish fourth in the Missouri Valley Conference preseason poll. "You'll give up some easy baskets at some point, but you've got to stick with it. (The Sioux) guards are relatively inexperienced. Our best chance was to press for 40 minutes."

UND fell behind 34-28 at halftime and Creighton pushed the lead to 45-32 in the first five minutes of the second half.

But the Sioux would make one last charge. UND came as close as eight points when junior captain Nicole Smart hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 51-43 with 9:25 to go.

The Bluejays, though, had an answer for every Sioux run. This time, Creighton's Jasmin Corbin and Ally Jensen knocked down 3-pointers to bump the lead back out to 14 points.

"It was a roller coaster at times," Smart said. "We handled (their pressure) well at times and struggled at times. But that kind of thing will just make us better in the long run.

"After the Crookston game, we said we needed to get a lot better. We needed to take a step forward, and I definitely thought we did that. I think things will start coming together."

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And the Bluejays weren't done there as the Sioux would go on a drought of 4:25 after Smart's 3-pointer -- eventually trailing by 19.

"We got the game going up and down during that stretch," Flanery said. "We were tired, but maybe they were more tired."

Creighton was led by three players in double figures. Sarah Nelson had a game-high 17 points, followed by Jensen with 13 and Carli Tritz with 10.

The Sioux were paced by Wall, who finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Smart added 12 points on 4-for-5 shooting from the 3-point line and Madi Buck chipped in 10 points.

"When Creighton did move away from us it was because we couldn't adjust to their pressure," Roebuck said. "We battled, though. We didn't lay down. We worked hard for 40 minutes. I'm proud of our effort. I know you want to look at the bottom line and not lose games, but if you keep playing hard, you'll get better. We have to learn from this and get better, but I liked our attitude on the floor and our competitiveness."

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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