Bluejay Rewind: Creighton vs Notre Dame (11/26/2002)
The 2002-03 Creighton Bluejays won 29 games, and though the wins over Southern Illinois (at home, in the MVC title game) are the games most often pointed to by fans as their favorites from that season, it’s another game that was the most important in terms of not only their resume for 2002-03, but their reputation as a program under Dana Altman.
When Creighton and Notre Dame met for the Guardians Classic title the week of Thanksgiving in 2002, neither team was ranked, and the game didn’t make much of a ripple nationally; then as now, tournaments without ranked teams, and especially ones not televised by ESPN, didn’t tend to get a lot of eyeballs. Such was the case with this one, televised on HDNet, a fledgling cable channel that most of the country didn’t yet receive.
The Jays won a hard-fought game 80-75 to take the crown in front of a partisan crowd that had made the short drive from Omaha to Kansas City. Kyle Korver made a then-career high seven 3-pointers en route to 24 points, and was brilliant in nearly every aspect of the game, from rebounding (he grabbed 10 boards to give him a double-double) to defense to the aforementioned long-range shooting.
One play in particular summed up Korver’s performance. Midway through the second half, Brody Deren came out onto the perimeter to set a screen, and was barreled over by a Notre Dame defender. Both players landed at Korver’s feet — 22, maybe 23 feet out — making a shot hard to get off. So he simply backed up another 18 inches or so and drained a three, touching nothing but the net, like it was no big deal. The analyst on HDNet’s broadcast, former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins, could barely get words out to describe it before simply laughing at the ridiculousness of it.
“Korver was fabulous,” Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey told the media afterward. “I can’t remember a shooter like that. We lost him a couple times at key times, and he really broke our backs.”
One of the CU fans in attendance held up a sign that summed up the night, and the Bluejays season. “I thought it was funny when I saw it,” Notre Dame guard Chris Thomas said to the Omaha World-Herald’s Steve Pivovar. “It said, ‘God, Country, Kyle Korver.’ That said it all.”
Two weeks later, the Irish upset #10 Marquette on ESPN’s Big Monday, then toppled #9 Maryland and #2 Texas in back-to-back days in the BB&T Classic, giving them three wins over top ten teams in one week. Suddenly national pundits were paying attention, and as they pored over Notre Dame’s schedule, they noticed something peculiar — namely, that their lone loss was to Creighton.
And so when the Irish vaulted into the polls at #10 the week of December 9 following those three huge wins, the Bluejays joined them. It was the first time since 1975 — the heydey of the Tom Apke Era — that the Jays were ranked in the AP Top 25. Despite going to four straight NCAA Tournaments at that point, Altman’s Jays had not yet garnered the national acclaim or attention-grabbing win needed to crack the Top 25 in any week. But on the strength of what was now perceived as a massive win over Notre Dame (and combined with a growing national reputation based both off of those consecutive NCAA Tourney berths and a win over Florida the previous March), the 2002-03 Jays broke into the rankings at #23.
Both teams continued piling up wins, and by the third week of January that season, Notre Dame had spent six straight weeks in the top ten of both polls. The Irish lost to Kentucky that week to fall out of the top ten, and were replaced by none other than Creighton, who had steadily marched up the polls thanks to a 15-1 record — their only loss to that point came on the road to #19 Xavier in a classic on New Years Eve.
It was Creighton’s first-ever Top Ten ranking, and though it was short-lived, the win over Notre Dame continued to pay dividends, and played a big role in the Jays’ seed for the NCAA Tournament. Though the game itself isn’t anywhere near a great one — how could it be with the Bluejays going a ghastly 8-21 from the free throw line and turning it over 21 times? — Korver’s performance alone makes it one of their most memorable, and the role it played in one of the Bluejays best seasons makes it a classic.
We’re thrilled to bring you the highlights of this one, as it’s consistently one of the most requested “Bluejay Rewind” games from readers.
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