Ed. Note: This is the part of our summer series that will look back at games from years past, including highlight packages. Not all of these games are classics in the traditional sense, but all of them feature terrific performances from Bluejay greats, and we think you’ll enjoy watching them as much as we did.
Scheduling in the non-conference is a struggle for mid-major teams, particularly those traditionally at the top of their leagues. In 2002, Doug Elgin of the MVC spearheaded an effort to help those teams get a tough game in the weeks leading up the NCAA Tournament that would showcase them on national television and give them an opportunity to get a marquee win. That first year, 18 teams were invited to participate, with all nine games televised on the ESPN networks on one day-long marathon. Creighton hosted Fresno State in the first game of the day, an 11am tip that was given top billing.
In it’s first year, the event was met with excitement from both fans and the teams involved. Dana Altman told the media the day before the game, “We feel that this is going to be a good game for us. Fresno State is a very athletic team, and it’s always good when you can go out of your league and play a team that is at the top or near the top of its conference.”
Jay Bilas of ESPN, who was in Omaha to provide color commentary on the telecast, thought the event was good…but that it would be even better if it matched up top mid-majors against bubble teams from the so-called BCS leagues. During an exchange in the second half with Andy Katz (also in Omaha as the sideline reporter for ESPN’s telecast), Bilas told Katz why that would never happen: “They’re chicken!” People can disagree with what Bilas has to say at times, but unlike many (most?) of his ESPN colleagues, his knowledge of the subjects and teams he’s speaking about can never be questioned. It’s an amusing rant, and we’ve included it in the package of clips.
Creighton came into the game 23-3 and ranked 18th in the country, and playing before their fourth-straight home sellout, the atmosphere was electric. It was so loud in the Civic that even Bilas, the former Duke player, was impressed — telling reporters after the game that he believed Creighton’s crowd affected the outcome. Of course, having Kyle Korver on your side didn’t hurt either, especially on a day when his shot was in vintage form. The senior made seven 3-pointers en route to 27 points, connecting on everything from shots off missed assignments to shots off screens and in one instance, making a shot with two hands draped on him.
His most impressive play came late in the game — on a play where he never touched the ball. With the game in the balance, he set a devastatingly hard pick on Fresno State’s Terry Pettis that knocked the Bulldog guard to the floor. It freed up Tyler McKinney to drive the paint, where he found Mike Grimes for an easy bucket that gave the Jays a 67-62 lead with two minutes to play.
Next week: In the final game at the Civic, Creighton says farewell to their building in style with an 86-60 rout of Wichita State.