Scrimmage partners Iowa, Creighton square off on NCAA stage

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — The annual tradition of Iowa and Creighton playing a closed preseason scrimmage has been going on for so long that neither coach is sure when it began.

The two teams will play Sunday on a bigger stage, a sellout crowd in Iowa City in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Iowa (24-7), the No. 2 seed in the Greensboro Regional, is on an eight-game winning streak. Its 98-58 victory Friday over Illinois State saw the Hawkeyes score the program’s highest point total in NCAA Tournament play.

Tenth-seeded Creighton (21-9) is coming off an 84-74 win over Colorado in the first round.

The atmosphere for Sunday’s game will be completely different than when the Bluejays and Hawkeyes played in Iowa City in October, Creighton coach Jim Flanery said.

“We’ve always scrimmaged in front of some people at the scorers’ table, and a few bench personnel,” Flanery said. “Tomorrow it will be in front of 15,000 people. So it will be a little more challenging.

“But if you’re a coach or competitor, what more could you want?”

The two programs, separated by 250 miles, haven’t played in the regular season since 2007. They faced off in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, with Creighton winning 76-70.

Both Flanery and Iowa coach Lisa Bluder think they’ve been doing the scrimmage, which is usually around Halloween, for at least 10 seasons — with the only pause coming last season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s a relaxed atmosphere, Flanery said of the scrimmage. The two teams play a 40-minute game with a halftime, and then sometimes play a fifth quarter to give more work to players who didn’t get much playing time.

“One year we played over here, and I think the fouls were nine or 10 to one against us,” Flanery said. “One of the officials walked by us and said, ’I guess if it was a regular game, you’d be yelling at me more. ‘I said, ‘Yeah, probably.’”

The players approach it differently.

“The scrimmage was very competitive,” said Iowa guard Caitlin Clark, an Associated Press first-team All-American who leads the nation in scoring at 27.4 points per game. “We take it very seriously. So I think it’s great we kind of have that experience going into tomorrow.”

Iowa won 83-78 in this season’s scrimmage, but both teams have grown since then.

“They’ve gotten better, we’ve gotten better,” said Creighton guard Lauren Jensen, who played at Iowa last season before transferring.

Bluder believes the teams are “the same, as far as offense and defense, as we were in October. But we’re both better than we were in October.”

Both teams have efficient offenses. Creighton leads the nation in assists and assists per game, while Iowa is third in both categories.

Three Bluejays average in double figures in scoring. Emma Ronsiek averages 14.8 points per game, Jensen averages 12.4 and Morgan Maly averages 12.2. Jensen and Maly have combined for 149 3-pointers this season.

“I like watching high-assist basketball teams,” Iowa guard Kate Martin said. “It’s pretty similar to us in that aspect. I can appreciate a team that shares the ball well. And they’re a hard-working team. They’re a really good team. They’re fun to watch.”

Creighton’s smaller lineup could work to the Hawkeyes’ advantage. Iowa center Monika Czinano, who leads the nation in field-goal percentage and averages 21.1 points per game, was 6 for 6 from the field in Friday’s game.

Clark said the scrimmage also helped educate the Hawkeyes on Creighton’s style of play.

“I think having that experience of playing them in the scrimmage, getting used to that small ball-style, not being shocked when we get out there tomorrow, is going to play to our advantage,” she said.

What’s at stake this time, though, is going to be different.

“We never felt like we had to win when we came over here,” Flanery said. “I always thought it was a learning tool. If we won, great. If we didn’t win, it was no big deal. Tomorrow, that won’t be the case.”

___

More AP coverage of March Madness: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Copyright © 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

Related Categories:

College Basketball | Other Sports News | Sports

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up