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In Anthony Tolliver's three seasons at Creighton, the Bluejays are 5-1 against Northern Iowa, 5-1 against Wichita State and 3-1 against Nebraska.
Against Southern Illinois, Creighton is 0-5. To Tolliver, that's uglier than the Salukis' mascot.
"That's tough on us," Tolliver said. "I've never been through anything like that, where we can't get over the hump against a certain team. This is a very important game for me personally and the whole team. Most of the guys on this team have never beaten them."
No active player on Creighton's roster has been on the court for a victory over the Salukis, who visit Qwest Center Omaha for a 1 p.m. game Saturday. Senior forward Jimmy Motz was on Creighton's 2001-02 team that posted an 84-76 victory over Southern Illinois in the championship game of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
Motz did not play in that game as a freshman, and he redshirted because of an injury the next season when the Bluejays went 2-1 against the Salukis. Creighton's last win came in the title game of the 2003 Valley tournament, when Kyle Korver and his teammates hammered the Salukis 80-56 for the Bluejays' school-record 29th win of the season.
Since then, Creighton has experienced nothing but heartache - not to mention plenty of bumps and bruises - in five meetings with Southern Illinois. The Salukis swept the 2003-04 series with 61-60 and 68-60 wins. Last season, the Salukis registered 69-63 and 71-67 victories. They then ran their streak to five with a 62-48 victory in Carbondale on Jan. 24.
"I'm 0-3 against these guys, and that's not something I want on my conscience," Creighton sophomore guard Pierce Hibma said. "I don't want there to be a team out there that every time we've gone against them that we haven't been successful."
If the Bluejays can't snap their skid Saturday, they'll see a 16-game homecourt winning streak come to an end. Creighton's streak, which started last season with a Feb. 9 victory over Northern Iowa, is tied for third longest in the country behind Gonzaga's 35 in a row and Wisconsin-Milwaukee's 18 straight. Denver and Hofstra also have won 16 consecutive home games.
Southern Illinois' victory in Omaha two seasons ago ended Creighton's longest string of home wins at 28. Another streak-busting win Saturday would make the Salukis the first team to win in Omaha in three consecutive seasons since Illinois State won five straight between 1993 and 1998.
The Redbirds were the Valley's marquee team back then. That honor has shifted to Southern Illinois, which has won the past four league championships and played in the NCAA tournament each season, and Creighton, which has played in the tournament six of the past seven years.
Both teams have won 17 games this season, giving the Bluejays 159 victories since the start of the 1999-2000 season and the Salukis 157 in the same span. Creighton ranks tied for 15th with Utah State in wins over the past seven seasons while Southern Illinois is tied with Maryland for 17th place.
The Salukis have achieved that level of success, Creighton coach Dana Altman said, with a straight-forward approach.
"Offensively, they don't do a lot of things but the things they do, they do well," Altman said. "Defensively, they do one thing - they guard you and they trap you. That's it. There's not much full-court pressing but they don't try to trick you offensively or defensively.
"They just try to become the aggressor and beat you up a little bit. You have to be ready for that."
The Bluejays haven't been able to counter-punch with enough effectiveness to outpoint the Salukis in the last five meetings. If the Bluejays can't Saturday, they'll risk losing their share of the Valley lead as they enter the game tied with Northern Iowa at 11-3.
SIU and Wichita State are a game back at 10-4. Three league games remain after Saturday, with Creighton's stretch run consisting of a Tuesday game at Wichita State, a Feb. 22 home game against now-healthy Indiana State and a Feb. 25 trip to Missouri State.
"There are a couple of different ways to look at the league race," Altman said. "To be real honest, a couple of the schools have easier schedules than we do. We have two very difficult road games and two very difficult home games. We have the toughest stretch, and we're going to have to play awfully well in that stretch."
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