Creighton edged by St. John's in upset bid, 69-67

JEFF LATZKE AP Sports Writer Published:

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) -- With his team on the brink of making NCAA tournament history, Creighton coach Jim Flanery found himself facing quite a dilemma.

He wanted to make sure his Bluejays were in position for a putback if leading scorer Carli Tritz unexpectedly missed a tying free throw with 5 seconds remaining. Yet he knew how dangerous St. John's speedster Nadirah McKenith would be even with just those few ticks left.

Flanery opted to leave only two players back on defense and McKenith made him pay.

McKenith scored on a coast-to-coast layup with 0.1 seconds left, lifting third-seeded St. John's to a dramatic 69-67 victory over Creighton in the first round of the NCAA women's tournament Sunday.

After Tritz hit two free throws to tie it with 5.4 seconds left, McKenith took an inbounds pass and zoomed up the left sideline and into the lane before lofting a high-arcing shot that splashed in for the game-winner.

"She's so slithery," Flanery said. "She's like a running back that can get through a hole and her shoulders are still going to the basket. That's hard to do. Part of it is she's so quick and she can cross over both directions."

Flanery repeatedly told Tritz, a 77 percent foul shooter, during a timeout before the final free throw that he expected her to make it. And yet he left two Bluejays along the line in case she missed and they needed a putback for the win.

That left his transition defense lacking when McKenith got the inbounds pass.

"We didn't get into it quick enough but I felt like we had to address the potential of a missed free throw and also I felt like she's quick enough to go end line to end line and she's quick enough to pick up a foul if we don't pick her up," Flanery said. "We had to cover two bases."

McKenith finished with 21 points to lead the Red Storm (23-9), who have won their tournament opener the past three years but have never made it out of the second round. They'll play sixth-seeded Oklahoma or No. 11 seed Michigan on Tuesday night for a spot in the Fresno Regional semifinals.

"She's done stuff like this before. She's kind of her own highlight reel," Red Storm coach Kim Barnes Arico said. "We feel like when a game's on the line, we can put the ball in her hands and she's really been able to make plays for us."

That's exactly what happened with Missouri Valley Conference champion Creighton threatening to pull of one of the women's tournament's biggest upsets and become the first No. 14 seed ever to upend a third-seeded opponent.

Ally Jensen scored 15 points, and Tritz and DaNae Moore had 14 apiece for the Bluejays (20-13), who had a chance to go ahead late after officials went to the replay monitor and ruled that Keylantra Langley elbowed Moore in the face while attempting to break a trap. Moore stepped up and hit both free throws with 51 seconds left, and Creighton also got possession.

But Tritz traveled while attempting to jump stop after faking a pass to the perimeter with 45 seconds to go.

"There were several points where I thought we were going to win it," Flanery said. "I know it's easy to sit up here and say that you believe in your team. ... This team, I really feel that way about because we've done it so many times and just, they reacted well to pressure.

"Partly because we're younger, I don't think we feel quite as much pressure."

Barnes Arico said she thought St. John's, picked by President Barack Obama to reach the Final Four, felt pressure for the first time after getting the school's highest seed ever.

"As much as everybody thinks we're a 3 seed right now, it's survive and advance," she said. "It's one game at a time.

"We want to be a Cinderella. We don't care about the number 3 in front of us."

Creighton was able to get easy baskets out of its motion offense while rallying back from 10 down in the first half and then switched to its 3-point shooting strength after St. John's made halftime adjustments.

The Bluejays held a lead early in the second half and were still even when McKenzie Fujan rattled in the team's fifth 3-pointer of the second half to tie it at 49 with 12:18 remaining.

The 3s stopped going in, and St. John's scored the next nine points to go up 58-49 on Shenneika Smith's jumper from the left elbow with 7:48 to play.

Jensen hit her fourth 3-pointer during a 9-2 rally, and the Bluejays eventually fought all the way back for a chance at their first NCAA tournament win in 20 years. This was their first appearance in a decade.

"I think we've kind of been that team that's fought from behind all season long, so I don't think we were nervous or too worried about it," Jensen said. "Obviously, we would have liked to cut into their lead a little more and maybe take a lead, but we felt confident and fine playing from behind.

"We knew that if we just stayed with it that we'd have a chance to win at the end."