Creighton was on the verge Saturday of coasting home to its first Big East women’s basketball win when the wheels almost came off on the Bluejays.
Villanova shaved a 13-point deficit to two with 1:18 to play, then forced Creighton to take a desperation 3-point shot with the shot clock nearing zero.
McKenzie Fujan had plenty of muscle on the attempt she threw up from about 24 feet. It banked off the glass and through the basket.
“I honestly didn’t know that one was going in,” Fujan said, “until it went in.”
The Wildcats did pull back within three points with 27 seconds left before Lauren Works made four free throws in the final 20 seconds to seal the 65-58 victory before 1,030 at D.J. Sokol Arena.
Creighton coach Jim Flanery was obviously relieved that four turnovers and two missed one-and-one free throw opportunities in the final 4½ minutes didn’t turn victory into defeat. Instead, the Bluejays improved to 7-6 with their third win in four games.
“Our late-game execution was a problem, but a lot of that is probably my fault,” Flanery said. “I think when you have experience and you have good ballhandlers, you kind of take your press-break for granted.
“We didn’t do a good job at the end of our Oregon State game when we had control of that one, and we didn’t do a good job today. We’ve got some work to do there.”
Still, Flanery and his players could smile about the close call at the end as they made some school history by winning in their inaugural game in their new conference.
“I didn’t think about the history of it during the game,” guard Marissa Janning said. “But after the game, I was like, ‘Yeah, first win of the Big East for us.’”
Fujan quickly interjected: “We have to keep this going.”
Janning and Fujan figured prominently in the victory, as did forward Sarah Nelson. They combined for 51 Bluejay points, with Janning scoring 19 on 7-of-12 shooting that included three 3-point baskets.
Fujan had 13 of her 17 points in the second half, including six in a 9-1 spurt that left Creighton ahead 54-41 with 6:25 to play. Nelson chipped in 15 points to go with five rebounds and five assists.
“When the three of us are playing well together, the defense has to guess,” Janning said. “They might be able to take one or two of us away, but they can’t cover all three, especially with as versatile as Sarah is and as athletic as Kenz is.
“There are so many options with us three. It’s really nice when we’re clicking on all cylinders.”
Villanova, which dropped to 9-2, got 16 points from Katherine Coyer and 10 from her twin sister, Caroline. The Wildcats came into the game leading the Big East in 3-point field goals per game (9.1) but made just 4 of 21 from beyond the arc against the Bluejays.
They did convert 21 of 34 2-point attempts (61.8 percent), including 6 of 8 shots in their late-game rally.
“We tried to take away the 3 instead of the drive, and you saw what happened,” Flanery said. “But that was something we could live with.”
Villanova overcame a slow start to take a 29-26 halftime lead by scoring on its final four possessions of the half. Creighton then opened the second half with an 11-0 run as Villanova went almost six minutes without a point.
“At halftime, I was telling everyone we needed to come out with a little more fire,” Fujan said. “We did a good job with that, hitting a few shots and getting a few stops. It was a good jump-start for us.”
Villanova countered with an 11-3 spurt that cut the Bluejays’ lead to 45-40. Fujan then got hot, scoring six of Creighton’s next nine points, to put her team ahead by 13.
The Bluejays would need one more banked-in basket from Fujan to hold on.
“I just knew on that shot that I needed to get as far away from my defender as I could while still being somewhat in my range,” Fujan said. “I just kind of fired it up and hoped for the best.”
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Video: See highlights from the Creighton-Villanova game:
Video: Creighton-Villanova postgame press conference: