No. 7 Creighton's goals intact even with Maurice Watson out

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) Creighton returned to practice Wednesday with the same aspirations it had before Maurice Watson Jr. went out with a season-ending knee injury.

With Watson leading one of the nation's most prolific offenses, the seventh-ranked Bluejays (18-1, 5-1 Big East) were a trendy pick to make a deep postseason run, maybe all the way to the Final Four.

Since the senior point guard and national assists leader tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in a win at Xavier on Monday, the conversation has changed. The pundits haven't totally written off the Bluejays, but there are doubts about how they'll navigate the rest of the Big East schedule without their national player of the year candidate.

''He's responsible for 35 points a game between his assists and his scoring. That's only part of his value,'' coach Greg McDermott said. ''So I understand why people think that. Maybe not one player is as important to a team anywhere in the country as Maurice was to us. But that doesn't mean we still can't win games.''

No decision has been made on who will replace Watson in the starting lineup for Saturday's home game against Marquette (12-6, 3-3).

Senior Isaiah Zierden, who has played mostly shooting guard, moved to the point after Watson left 72-67 win over Xavier . McDermott said he went with Zierden because the circumstances - a close road game in a hostile environment - demanded an experienced player in that role.

Freshman Davion Mintz had been Watson's top backup, and junior walk-on Tyler Clement also has played.

''We have to tinker with some things and see what may work the best,'' McDermott said. ''It may be a game-to-game situation.''

Creighton is ninth nationally in average possession length, at 14.3 seconds, according to kenpom.com. The Bluejays slowed things down with Zierden at the point, and that was OK with McDermott because of the situation.

But, he said, ''that's not what our program is about. Our program is about pace. That's how our guys want to play, and we'll continue to push forward with that same tempo.''

Watson banged his left knee in a collision with Xavier's Edmond Sumner midway through the first half. The training staff evaluated the knee and iced it, and he returned a few minutes later. Not long after Watson re-entered, he tore his ACL as he landed on a layup.

Watson said he didn't regret returning after the collision with Sumner.

''When I'm hurt, I've got to get up and play through it. That's always been my motto,'' he said. ''I'm from Philly. You've got to be tough. I've played with a broken nose before, a broken thumb. I wanted to play. It ended up costing me my season and the rest of my college career, but I got a basket and we got a `W.' "

Watson said he would have surgery in two or three weeks. His recovery could take six to nine months. He said he'll take on the role of an assistant coach working with the point guards. His absence, he said, creates opportunities for other players to show what they can do.

''Do I think we can still go to the Final Four? Yes. Do I think we still can win the Big East? Yes,'' Watson said. ''When you're back is against the wall, the best thing to do is respond.''

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More AP college basketball: www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

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