"I didn't think we could play much better, but I'm not sure we didn't," said Creighton coach Greg McDermott, whose son Doug tied his season high with 39 points on 13-for-17 shooting. "We didn't have that crazy shot night, but the other parts of our game were really good."
The 18th-ranked Jays (21-4, 11-2 Big East) extended their home winning streak to 16. And they obviously own the tiebreaker, in case that's necessary, over the Wildcats (22-3, 10-2) in the conference. This was the third time Villanova had won 22 of its first 24. And the third time that it had lost the next one. The other two, in 2006 and 2010, were to Connecticut. The Wildcats won't be No. 6 when the polls come out today.
"It's like a broken record," said Villanova coach Jay Wright. "We struggled with them twice, so it's obviously a tough matchup for us. We've got to find an answer, if we play them again.
"I love the way they play. They're smart, experienced, and they have the best player in the country. And he makes everyone better. We played them a lot different. It's hard to say, but we really did. We adjusted, they adjusted, same thing. They might have executed better tonight.
"We scored 80, but gave up 101. That's definitely not getting it done."
The last time they met, Creighton opened by making nine straight threes, almost all of them by Ethan Wragge. So, naturally, he took two shots in 28 minutes. But McDermott set the tone by scoring the Jays' first 11. The Jays, who shoot 42 percent from the arc, went 9-for-15 from deep. And 25-for-38 from two. They finished at 64 percent overall. And they got to the basket a lot, as Villanova attempted to take away the perimeter.
"They did a good job, but we could have done a better job in a lot of little areas," said James Bell, who scored 18 before fouling out with 6 minutes to go.
And maybe even some big ones.
The Jays had 22 more points in the paint, 13 off turnovers and 15 off the bench. Villanova did get six more (10-4) on second chances.
Creighton had only won once before, in seven tries, against Top 25 teams when it was also ranked. That was in 1974, against No. 16 Louisville.
"I live for these kind of games," said Doug McDermott, who came within five points of his career best, which he established two seasons ago. "They are the best. You don't get these opportunities much. I don't think any of us ever thought we'd see this day, a Top 10 team in Omaha. The last game gave us a lot of confidence. But there's still a lot of season left. We can't celebrate this one."
Or, as his dad put it, "It's important today."
Did we mention that Doug passed Larry Bird (2,850) for 13th on the all-time scoring list?
"It's hard to explain right now," said McDermott, who has scored 2,863 points. "It's crazy. He's one of my idols. But as I was telling one of my friends, imagine if he had the three-point line and had stayed in school for 4 years. He would have been way ahead of me. I watched a lot of stuff he did on YouTube. He's one of the greatest. I like to do the same stuff he does. But I'm playing with guys who find me in great spots. They deserve just as much credit. We play really good team basketball."
At both ends. They never let JayVaughn Pinkston get anything going inside, at least not when the game was being decided. His only shot in the first half was a follow, and he took only six in 34 minutes, although he did go 9-for-9 at the foul line, just like McDermott.
"He's as complete a player - and I don't use that word loosely - with size as I've ever seen," Wright said. "There's nothing he can't do. He's the best post player and the best perimeter player we've faced. And one of the best passers. And he's 6-8, 6-9."
So, where to now? Well, the Wildcats immediately chartered to Providence, where they'll play tomorrow night. They beat the Friars by 30 at the Pavilion in early January, but they've lost three of the last five meetings, including the last two, at the Dunkin Donuts Center, where Wright is 4-5.
"We knew this stretch was coming," Wright said. "We've got a lot of work to do. The 22-2 and [No.] 6 doesn't mean anything right now. You are what you finish."
They might be forced to deal with this obstacle a third time, next month at Madison Square Garden. Or even a fourth, in the Madness. For the moment, though, the next time was plenty.