Erickson must have been citing game film he'd seen from many of KU's regular-season games, because the No. 8-ranked Jayhawks weren't at their best Friday afternoon. Their effort still was good enough to win, 3-1, however.
The Jayhawks (18-4) now will play host to Nebraska (13-8) at 1 p.m. Sunday with a berth in the Sweet 16 at stake. The Cornhuskers handed KU its only home loss of the season on Sept. 24 when they scored in the first minute and hung on for a 1-0 victory.
KU coach Mark Francis wasn't too pleased with how his Jayhawks opened the game against Creighton, as they fell behind, 1-0, just 7:34 into the game on a goal by Emily Munn off a set play.
"The goal was a byproduct of the fact that we came out flat," Francis said, pointing out that KU had known Creighton was very good at executing set plays but simply didn't defend it properly.
The Jayhawks still didn't seem to pick up any steam when freshman defender Afton Sauer tied the match 10 minutes later on a header from five feet out off passes from Holly Gault and Caroline Smith.
Jessica Smith's goal at the 35:33 mark when she slipped behind CU's fallen goalkeeper after passes from Jessica Kilpatrick and Amy Geha finally seemed to give the Jayhawks a bit of momentum. Suddenly KU had a 2-1 lead, and from that point on really controlled the temp of the game.
Senior forward Monica Brothers added the lone score of the second half when she rebounded her own miss and buried a shot from point-blank range that gave KU solid control of the game. Outside of moments like that however, Kansas' starters didn't have their best performance of the year. As a result, Francis relied on plenty of his reserves for strong minutes and they delivered.
"Our bench was really big today," Francis said. "We had a lot of guys come off the bench who were really key for us."
Midfielder Nicole Cauzillo – a starter for most of the season – came off the bench and gave KU a big energy boost in the midfield. Danika Erickson, Jessica Smith, Lacey Novak, Kimberly Karfonta, Emily Strinden, Michelle Rasmussen, Nicole Braman and Kilpatrick provided plenty of relief for the starters and easily preserved the lead.
Francis wasn't the only person who noticed the impact of KU's bench. Creighton coach Bruce Erickson had plenty of good things to say about the Jayhawk reserves.
"The think about Kansas that makes them so tough is that Mark has a team of subs that could probably get to the tournament," he said.
Another key contribution by the subs was that they allowed many of Kansas' starters to get extra rest and conserve energy for the Sunday rematch with Nebraska. Among the notable players who received breathers was Caroline Smith who sat for the final 30 minutes of the game.
NOTES FROM THE JAYHAWK VICTORY:
- Caroline Smith's two assists elevated her career points total to 100, making her the first Jayhawk soccer player to notch 100 career points. She also has 32 points this season, tying her for the second-highest single-season total in KU history behind her own mark of 41 last year.
- Smith's 10 assists this season rank as the second-best single-season total in KU history. She also ranks fourth in career history with 16.
- Senior Amy Geha notched her 19th career assist in the victory, moving her into second all-time at Kansas.
- Senior Monica Brothers' goal moved her into third in career goals at KU with 19. She also improved to third in career points with 51.
- The 2004 Jayhawks have set single-season team records for points (144), goals (46), assists (52), goals-against-average, shutouts (13), corner kicks (106) and tied the mark for wins (18).