The line that the Creighton women's basketball team is walking is a fine one.
The Bluejays are 4-4 heading into Saturday's game at 19th-ranked Nebraska. They've lost two straight, including a 28-point drubbing at Oklahoma. It's hardly been the kind of start that coach Jim Flanery expected from his veteran team.
“We have a couple good wins, but we're not where we want to be,” Flanery said. “We've played OK, but we definitely need to play better. That's on us as coaches to find ways to put our kids in positions where they can be more successful.”
In assessing Creighton's play during the first month of the season, Flanery sees a team that isn't that far from being average.
“But we're also not that far from being really good,” he said. “We're pretty close, and that's what makes Saturday's game pretty big. If we could get that one, we could get some momentum going into our Las Vegas trip and the start of conference play.”
Flanery's players also sense that they are teetering between the team they want to be and one that could struggle once Big East play begins.
“We've had games where we've played absolutely awful,” senior Sarah Nelson said. “We didn't play as a team as opposed to the games where we've played great. We need to try to find that happy medium.”
Teammate Marissa Janning said the ups and downs this season have been frustrating.
“We still have a long way to go,” she said, “and Nebraska would be a good start.”
The Bluejays snapped a seven-game skid to the Huskers in pulling out a 66-57 win in Omaha last December. Janning scored a team-high 19 points in her sixth game as a collegian.
Nelson had four points, eight rebounds and six assists, but her biggest contribution was the defensive work on Nebraska star Jordan Hooper. Creighton held Hooper scoreless as she missed all seven of her shots.
“Everyone kept telling me I played great, but she missed her shots,” Nelson said. “It's one of those things where if you can stop a good player from just going off in the first couple of minutes, it keeps them from getting that confidence boost.
“Once you make one 3-pointer, the second seems so much easier to make. Hopefully we can get off to a good start against her. We have to stay on her and not let her get the shots she wants.”
The 6-foot-2 Hooper has averaged 21.6 points and 10.8 rebounds in Nebraska's 7-2 start. Her combination of size and a quick release makes her dangerous, Flanery said.
“Teams are used to covering someone that has it loaded up every time they get it,” Flanery said. “People don't appreciate how quickly she can get it up, and they do some nice things to get her shots.
“And she's been better in the post and getting to the free-throw line this year.”
If Hooper gets it going, it could make for another long day in Lincoln for the Bluejays. Creighton is 1-20 at Nebraska, with its only win coming in 1993 when Flanery was an assistant on Connie Yori's Bluejay staff.
Yori took over the Husker program in 2002, with Flanery succeeding her at Creighton. In five trips to Lincoln to face his old boss, Flanery has absorbed losses of 8, 34, 14, 10 and 11 points, respectively.
Flanery is hoping last season's win could have some carryover that will lead to a different result in Lincoln for the Bluejays.
“It had been awhile since we had beaten them, so hopefully our players will realize Nebraska's focus might be a little greater,” Flanery said. “They've had good teams over the years, and it seems like the times we've gotten close they've made plays at the end or we've played a little tight.
“I feel we've played well in stretches down there, but seldom have we played 35 or 40 minutes. It seems like we've either fallen short early or late.”