Boom, boom, boom.
Three minutes into the game, Ethan Wragge had already made more 3-point shots than most players make in 40 minutes.
Boom, boom, boom.
At the 5 1/2-minute mark, Wragge had still not missed, with most of his attempts coming from spots on the floor that most players wouldn't be comfortable shooting.
Six minutes and five seconds in, Wragge punctuated what ranks as perhaps the most impressive individual shooting display in Creighton basketball history with another perimeter bomb.
The bearded marksman opened the Bluejays' Jan. 20 game by making his first seven shots from beyond the arc. He would finish the 96-68 rout of Villanova with nine 3-point baskets, tying the school record of another noted sharpshooter, Kyle Korver.
Now consider this: In those first 365 seconds against the Wildcats, Wragge made more 3-point shots than he has in his past 111 minutes on the court.
That's right. In the past four games, Wragge has gotten up only 16 shots. He took 14 against Villanova. Of the 16, he has connected on just five. He has made that many in six games this season.
It's as if Creighton's opponents, starting with St. John's in a Jan. 28 game in Omaha, have banded together and decided the best way to beat the Bluejays is to take Wragge out of the scoring equation.
“It's an interesting strategy,” said Wragge with a wry smile, as if he knows something the rest of us don't.
Perhaps it's this: The extra attention Wragge has drawn over the past four games has provided Doug McDermott extra space to operate, most times against a single defender.
In those four games, the two-time All-American has averaged 30.5 points while making 45 of 84 shots from the field, including 10 of 24 3-point attempts.
“When they play single coverage on Doug in the post,” Wragge said, “I think that's a matchup we're real comfortable with as a team.”
How Villanova defends McDermott and Wragge could go a long way in deciding Sunday's rematch at the CenturyLink Center. The meeting marks just the eighth time in Creighton history that it will play a game in which both teams are ranked in the Associated Press Top 25.
The Wildcats (22-2, 10-1) are ranked sixth and lead the Big East by a half-game. The 18th-ranked Bluejays (20-4, 10-2) could take over the top spot with a victory before what promises to be an intense game-day atmosphere.
“We're playing a top-10 team on our court,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “We haven't had many opportunities like this in the past. I think the arena will be electric on Sunday afternoon.”
The turnout could witness a toe-to-toe battle between opponents that, despite the lopsidedness of the first meeting, are similar in their approach. Villanova and Creighton rank 1-2 in scoring in the Big East and are in the top four in defense. As dependent as the Bluejays are in scoring from beyond the arc, Villanova actually has put up 16 more 3-point attempts than Creighton's 599. The Wildcats have connected 29 fewer times.
“They put four guys and sometimes five guys on the floor that can shoot the 3-point shot,” Greg McDermott said. “They're explosive in transition and they're sound defensively. They can beat you from a lot of different spots.”
Villanova's approach mirrors that of Creighton's, right down to the mantra that guides each team.
“We love sharing the ball with each other,” Villanova guard Darrun Hilliard told SportsIllustrated.com after Wednesday's win at DePaul. “We get off on that, we get off on having assists and seeing each other making great plays.”
Creighton has thrived the past three seasons by passing up the good shot to get the great one. In many cases, that's meant making an extra pass to get the ball to Wragge.
But the 6-foot-7 senior has found few open looks the past four games.
“Teams are playing me a lot closer,” Wragge said. “They know I don't need that much space to get it off. Teams have been doing a good job of picking me up in transition. If I stop to trail (the play), my man will stop by me when the ball is actually in front of them.
“It's little things like that. Early on, teams weren't paying that close of attention to some of the things we like to do. Now, they're all over it.”
Wragge and his teammates recognize the advantage that comes when teams employ such a defensive approach.
“It leaves our other guys to basically play three-on-three on the backside,” said Wragge, who often spends much of his time on the same side of the court as Doug McDermott. “Our guys do a great job of playing off of that.”
None more so than their All-American. The double- and triple-teams he once had to battle through are less likely to be there since teams are now focused on not letting Wragge get shots. And if opponents do decide to try to bring help defense, McDermott is more than willing to find other open teammates.
“Teams are making it hard on Ethan,” Doug McDermott said. “But that opens things up for the rest of us. Ethan realizes that and he's been real unselfish. And, eventually, he's going to make them pay.”
Given what he did in the first meeting with Villanova, Wragge was asked if he plans to drop 10 3-pointers on the Wildcats this time.
“It would be nice to get 10 shots up,” he said, smiling. “We'll see how they're defending us, and we'll go from there.”