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Creighton's winning formula a simple one

PHILADELPHIA -- In this, the season of grind-it-out, ugly-it-up defensive rock fights that are meant to be basketball games, there is still one truth basketball holds to be self-evident:

The team that scores the most points wins.

And if you can’t shoot, you can’t score. Ergo, if you cannot score or shoot, you cannot win.

Case in point: Cincinnati versus Creighton.

The Bearcats’ approach is simple: physically beat teams into submission, crush them on the boards and score just enough to win games. It’s been a pretty effective approach for Mick Cronin’s team. It worked to the tune of 22 victories this season and played pretty well in the Big East, where a game without bloodshed is considered a shooting contest.

But eventually, you run into a team that can survive ugly yet also can score, and you cannot.

That’s called Creighton 67, Cincinnati 63.

In the second round of the NCAA tournament, the Bluejays shot 46.7 percent from beyond the arc; the Bearcats hit 5 of 20 3s. Creighton swished 22 of its 25 free throws, including nine of its final 10; Cincinnati hit 4 of 9 for the game and clanked three in the final minute.

“That’s sort of been our formula for success,’’ senior Grant Gibbs said of No. 7 seed Creighton (28-7). “We spread the ball and we’ve got a lot of guys who can score, and if we can get to the free throw line, we’re pretty good.’’

It’s been the opposite for the No. 10 seed Bearcats, who might get permanently stuck at H were they to put it to a game of HORSE.

They just can’t score.

Cincinnati (22-12) had a chance to tie it at the end, but Sean Kilpatrick’s decent look at a tying 3 rattled out.

He was surprised by that.

“It was a clean look, and then it just bounced and then it rolled and out,’’ Kilpatrick said. “It was surprising because it felt good going off in my hands, but it just rolled right out.’’

He shouldn’t have been so shocked. Cincinnati shoots just 31.7 percent from the arc for the season, so the odds of one falling when the game is on the line aren’t likely to be very good.

The real twist in all of this is, while Creighton’s shooting won the game, the Bluejays ought to emerge from it with an entirely different reputation.

In the basketball vernacular, high-scoring, offensive-minded teams also tend to be called something else.

That would be soft.

It’s a completely ridiculous generalization -- as most generalizations are -- and entirely inaccurate. But if you’re tagged with it, if you’re a team that usually outscores an opponent as opposed to outmuscling it, it’s a hard tag to drop.

The notion has followed Creighton through this season, even dogging star forward Doug McDermott. Fans sitting behind press row audibly expressed their shock when McDermott actually -- and adequately -- posted up to score.

McDermott finished with 27 points, which isn’t a surprise. What might have opened eyes up among the clueless: Only two of the seven shots he made were from beyond the arc.

And he had 11 rebounds.

The Bluejays, in fact, managed to outboard a Cincinnati team that ranked fourth in the nation in rebounding. McDermott, with a huge assist from Gregory Echenique, controlled the paint. Echenique finished with 13 points and seven rebounds.

Echenique is no stranger to "physical" games. He started his career at Rutgers and when he transferred, plenty of folks scratched their heads, wondering why he would take the perceived step backward to a Missouri Valley Conference school.

Echenique ignored them then and is merely amused by it all now.

“It’s funny how somehow it always goes back to people questioning our toughness, but I honestly don’t think that’s true at all,’’ he said. “I think we can definitely play tough. We’ve showed it before and we just proved it again today. And yeah, we take it personal. Obviously it’s disrespectful when people say that, but it’s OK. We had a chance to prove it and we did, and if we get challenged again, we’ll be there.’’