ANAHEIM, Calif. — Creighton tried to brush aside the disappointment of losing for the first time this season with a Saturday trip to the Magic Kingdom.
After visiting Disneyland in the morning, the Bluejays got back to business with some practice at the Honda Center, the site of Sunday’s final day of play in the Wooden Legacy tournament.
At one point, Creighton coach Greg McDermott stopped practice to emphasize the need to overcome one of the shortcomings that arose in Friday’s loss to San Diego State.
“Let’s get used to putting a body on a guy every time the ball goes up,” McDermott told his players. “If we would have gotten into the fight six more times out of 70 possessions last night, we would have won the game.”
Creighton’s inability to keep the Aztecs off the boards figured into the 86-80 loss. San Diego State outrebounded Creighton 36-29, and the Aztecs came up with a couple of crucial offensive boards in the second half that stymied Creighton’s attempts to come back from a 19-point deficit.
Cleaning up the rebounding problems will be crucial as the Bluejays move forward, starting with Sunday’s 5:30 p.m. matchup against George Washington in the tournament’s third-place game.
Like the Bluejays, the Colonials lost for the first time this season when No. 25 Marquette handed them a 76-60 loss in Friday’s other semifinal. George Washington had won its first five games.
Like McDermott, George Washington coach Mike Lonergan hopes to see a little more fight out of his team but puts stock into facing high-level competition in the tournament.
“We have to get tougher,” he said after the Marquette loss. “We’re excited to play some very good teams — that’s why we entered this tournament. I told our guys I would rather play for third place than eighth place. We still have a lot to play for.
“We’re hoping by playing a very good schedule here will help us for the Atlantic 10 Conference this year. We know we are going to be playing a very good team Sunday.”
Prior to the Marquette game, George Washington had been shooting 52 percent from the field and 47 percent from 3-point range. The Golden Eagles held the Colonials to 33 percent shooting from the floor and 21 percent from beyond the arc.
“They’re a very disciplined team, and going into the Marquette game, their shooting numbers were very similar to ours,” McDermott said. “They’re a team that shares the basketball and plays very unselfishly.”
George Washington has five players who have recorded 10 or more assists, with sophomore point guard Joe McDonald leading the team with a 3.7 average.
Maurice Creek, a 6-foot-5 graduate transfer from Indiana, leads the Colonials in scoring with a 16.3 average, while Villanova transfer Isaiah Armwood is averaging 13.8 points and a team-high 8.3 rebounds.
The Bluejays spent part of Saturday’s practice working against a variety of defenses.
“We’ll see a 1-3-1, we’ll see some 2-3, we’ll see some man-to-man,” McDermott said. “That makes for a bit of challenge on a one-day prep.”
What Creighton won’t see is the same kind of athleticism and length that San Diego State was able to throw at the Bluejays. Six of the seven players that logged the most minutes against Creighton stood between 6-5 and 6-7. The seventh was 6-3, 210-pound point guard Xavier Thames, who led San Diego State with 26 points.
“A lot of teams might be athletic, but usually one of their guys is 6-10, and if you can get him away from the basket, he can’t defend,” McDermott said. “San Diego State played its starting center only about 13 minutes.
“Everyone else they played was 6-6, 6-7 or 6-8. They switched everything, so it didn’t matter who was guarding you. You were seeing the same thing except from Xavier Thames, but he’s a big point guard.”
Still, Creighton managed to shoot 48 percent from the field, 48 percent from 3-point range and score 80 points against the nation’s second-stingiest defense.
“I would have thought that would have been good enough to win,” McDermott said.
Creighton’s inability to handle the Aztecs’ athleticism did contribute to it digging a 19-point deficit. The Bluejays committed 12 turnovers that allowed San Diego State to score 16 points.
“They do a good job with their full-court pressure, but we knew they were going to do that,” Creighton guard Grant Gibbs. “We just had some mental lapses and sloppy plays that added up. You have to credit what they did, but a lot of that is on us.”
Gibbs said Creighton needs to clean that up heading into Sunday’s game.
“In the games we played well, we’ve been a lot more in tune with the breaks of the game and what we’re taking away defensively from individual players,” Gibbs said. “We had some lapses, and they really hurt us.”