Creighton at its best when Wragge hitting his 3s

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 20, 2013
(Eds: Updates.) By ERIC OLSON AP Sports Writer Doug McDermott is Creighton's main attraction, yet it's the player who isn't even a starter who is often the difference between the Bluejays winning and losing. When 3-point specialist Ethan Wragge is on, they're almost unbeatable. When he's not, well, they aren't. Creighton's plan against Cincinnati (22-11) in the NCAA Midwest Regional in Philadelphia on Friday will be the same as in any other game. The Bluejays (27-7) want to get McDermott and center Gregory Echenique established inside first, which will allow the 6-foot-7 Wragge to do what he does best behind the 3-point line. ''He's a big difference-maker out there and a nightmare matchup for the opposing teams, especially if Cincinnati is going to pressure us a lot,'' McDermott said. ''I think he can get some open shots off the press or moving the ball around.'' Wragge is one of the nation's most prolific 3-point shooters, hitting 43.5 percent of his attempts with his distinct high and quick release. He and McDermott share the team lead with 74 3s, but Wragge, who plays just over 16 minutes a game, is on the court only half as much as McDermott. Wragge averages 7.7 points, and the Bluejays are 10-0 when he scores in double figures. Creighton is 28-1 the past three seasons when Wragge shoots better than 50 percent from long distance. In Creighton's 27 wins this season, Wragge shot 48.3 percent. That dropped to 22 percent in the Bluejays' seven losses. Wragge is well aware of the correlation. ''When we're moving the ball well as a team and I'm getting wide-open shots with my feet set,'' Wragge said, ''I think that shows a lot of things about our team. It means they're really focusing on Doug or they're focusing on Greg down low. If I'm able to make them pay, we do have a good chance to succeed.'' Wragge's importance showed up in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament title game against Wichita State. McDermott's shot was off, and he got into foul trouble. Wragge made three quick 3s early to help Creighton get the lead, and he finished with five 3s and a team-leading 15 points in the 68-65 win. ''I always have confidence in Ethan,'' coach Greg McDermott said. ''He's one of the best shooters I've ever coached and he's proven that over the course of his career. He's taken some tough shots. He has to because he doesn't get a lot of time to get his feet set and get those off sometimes.'' Wragge's modus operandi in Creighton's half-court offense is to find his way to the corner and look for his shot. He also is deadly hitting 3s as a trailer in transition, a role he took as a freshman under coach Dana Altman. ''It's a tough spot for other (power forwards) to guard because they're used to guarding down low or inside, and when you're able to shoot it, it catches some of them off guard,'' Wragge said. Wragge was the biggest player on his high school team in Eden Prairie, Minn., and did a lot of his scoring around the basket. He rarely steps inside the arc nowadays. Of his total shot attempts, 93.9 percent have come from 3-point range (170 of 181) - the highest rate of any player in the country with at least 100 attempts, according to STATS LLC. The drawback is that he isn't able to get to the free-throw line as much as he would like. He's 29 for 31 from the line this season and an 89.6-percent free-throw shooter for his career. Wragge said he knows, accepts and likes his role. With McDermott doing his thing, there isn't much call for Wragge to come off screens and shoot 15-foot jump shots. His job is to create space on the court and knock down his shots when the ball comes his way. Wragge takes exception to any suggestion he's not a complete player. Fans, he said, shouldn't think he looks at the 3-point arc as an electric fence that will zap him if he steps inside. ''They might not be used to seeing me shoot (2-pointers), but that doesn't mean I can't shoot it,'' he said. ''I'm a four-year college basketball player. Hopefully I can make a layup or a 2-pointer every so often.''
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