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Cal Baptist falls to Grand Canyon in first rivalry matchup

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Cal Baptist shows promise, but the Lancers are still not ready hang on with the Lopes.

Cal Baptist v Nevada Photo by Jonathan Devich/Getty Images

Sometimes imitation is the best form of flattery.

Things felt all too familiar for Dan Majerle and the Lopes when they walked into the Cal Baptist event center in Riverside to face their former PAC-West rivals for the first time as WAC conference foes.

The Cal Baptist Event Center has an identical layout to the GCU Arena. CBU’s student section — named the “Crazies” — sits at center court, gets hyped to EDM music in a pregame hype routine similar to that of the GCU Havocs and the “Lancers Beat GCU” whiteout theme night was a familiar sight.

CBU openly considers GCU a model for a successful Division I transition. There a lot smoke and mirrors comparing the two former PAC-West Rivals whom are separated by just 307 miles of desert. Cal Baptist’s current operation is a reflection of what GCU looked like six years ago when it entered the Division I ranks. GCU manufactured the one of the more exciting transitions in recent memory. GCU’s 83 wins during their transition period as a program is an NCAA record. They have created one of the most exciting home courts in college basketball and they’re a fast track rising program in the NCAA.

Naturally, Cal Baptist wants to have an exciting Division I transition of its own.

“The biggest thing watching [GCU] is they made no new excuses and got better every year,” Cal Baptist head coach Rick Croy said after the GCU game. “They continue to play hard every game no matter the circumstances. To execute that takes a lot of resolve and toughness. That’s what we have to do and I feel we are on our way to doing that.”

CBU has done a great job in its first year developing a great environment and excitement for its first year in the WAC. They have the conference’s best scorer in sophomore guard Milan Acquaah, came into the game with a 10-8 record and kicked off conference play with an upset win over conference powerhouse New Mexico State.

On Saturday night, the Cal Baptist faithful were hoping for another home upset over another conference power, yet that was easier said than done.

In the first half the Cal Baptist punched GCU in the mouth. Energized by an excited sellout crowd of 5,000 fans, the Lancers jumped out to a 13-5 lead in the first five minutes. However, GCU used its depth and physicality to get back into the game. GCU’s length caused problems for the Lancers throughout the night; the Lancers had 11 turnovers in the first half. But on the other side, Cal Baptist shot incredibly well from beyond the arch shooting an astounding 8-10 from the three point line. The Lancers went into the break trailing the Lopes 39-38 at the half.

GCU took control of the second half. The Lopes physicality on the offensive boards, their defensive length, and depth proved to be too much for the Lancers.

Despite being in foul trouble, GCU guard Carlos Johnson went off in the second half by scoring 26 points in just 18 minutes. The Lopes blew the door off the building and silenced the sold out home crowd. The Cal Baptist faithful remained silent as they had to endure cheers from the GCU Havocs and the other Lopes faithful that made the trip to Riverside. The Lopes prevailed to win 90-73 in what was a fun and exciting offensive game.

The Lancers showed a bunch of promise but they were unable to hold against a more talented Lopes team. GCU wings Tim Finke and Gerard Martin were very aggressive on the ball and did an excellent job of making WAC leading scorer Milan Acuaanah feel uncomfortable as he scored just 12 points on 4-14 shooting.

GCU was able to win an atmosphere where the home team was desperately fighting for a win. The Lopes got Cal Baptist’s best shot, which is a positive takeaway that Croy can take away from the loss

Here are three more takeaways from the game:

1. CBU has the resources the talent and potential to be a successful program in the WAC

They have the blueprint, the resources, the facilities, and the coach to be successful in the WAC. They have will have Acquaah, the conference’s top scorer, for the next couple of years and they will have an opportunity to win a lot of games. So far, CBU has proved to be a great addition to the WAC.

2. Two years ago, GCU would have lost this game

The mental toughness and resilience is what separates this Grand Canyon team from the others. Previously, the Lopes were a home reliant team with road woes. But this proves to be the best road team the Lopes have had. They should be ready to play well away from the Havocs in March. This Grand Canyon team is different and in my minds are the favorites to win the WAC tournament in a month.

3. When Carlos Johnson is able to score at will, the Lopes can compete with any team in the country

The one thing the Lopes have lacked since Dewayne Russell graduated is a player that can create his own shot. Carlos Johnson has the potential to be that guy. He is an athletic scorer who can beat players off the dribble and get to the rim. Because of Johnson, the Lopes are going to be a dangerous out come March.