Creighton senior guard Mitch Ballock has been around long enough to remember his team twice holding halftime leads against Gonzaga before coming up short.
Ballock and the Bluejays get another shot at the top-ranked Zags (28-0) in Sunday’s Sweet 16 in Indianapolis. Ballock outlined what it will take for fifth-seeded Creighton (22-8) to finish the job this time around.
“We’ve had two different leads at half and they just keep coming,” Ballock recalled. “You can’t get relaxed, you can’t get comfortable when you play a team that has this kind of talent and is this powerful on the offensive end.
“You have to stay locked in and focused for 40 minutes if you want to be different. With the maturity and the experience on our team, I think we’re the team that can do that and can make some noise and really shock the world.”
Current Bluejays Ballock and forward Damien Jefferson started and point guard Marcus Zegarowski came off the bench in Gonzaga’s 103-92 road win in 2018.
Ballock also saw time in the 2017 contest won by the Zags 91-74 in Spokane. He’s third in made 3-pointers in program history.
Zegarowski, who averages a team-high 15.7 points, earned first-team All-Big East Conference honors. Jefferson (12.1 points, 5.4 rebounds) was second-team All-Big East and senior wing Denzel Mahoney was honorable mention at 12.5 points and 4.1 boards. Mahoney played his first two seasons at Southeast Missouri State.
“We played them two years ago in Omaha in a great game and they have a bunch of players back from a great team,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “They’re really experienced, skilled guys that really know how to play, an amazing point guard in Zegarowski that knows how to make all the right reads on ball screens but can also score and finish.
“You get to this level, you’re going to play a really good team and they’re certainly that.”
Senior Corey Kispert is the only current Zag that played in the 2018 game. He scored eight points.
“I hope he has eight on Sunday as well,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott joked. “He’s added the ability to beat people off the dribble, increased his range and obviously his efficiency is off the charts. It’s fun to see someone go to college, stay four years and really work to develop his game in the way he has.
“He’s a terrific player and he’s on an awesome team. We have to be there on the catch. If you’re not, it’s probably over. He’s that good a shooter and gets it off quick.”
McDermott remembers his team yielding 54 second-half points in Spokane and 62 on Creighton’s home floor in previous losses to Gonzaga.
“You have to play 40 minutes against this Zags team,” he said. “It appears to me, especially watching the tournament games, these guys are on a mission to go undefeated and win a national championship. If you’re not able to match the intensity that goes with that, you’re asking for trouble.”
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