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GCU gets a shot at redemption against New Mexico State

A matchup with WAC juggernaut New Mexico State awaits

Grand Canyon v Utah Valley Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images

Lead by Carlos Johnson’s 38 points, Grand Canyon University upset 2-seed Utah Valley 78-74 to clinch its spot in the WAC title game. The Lopes now have a chance to clinch their first tourney birth in school history in the WAC championship game and also avenge their loss in the WAC title game last year against their conference rival New Mexico State.

“I’m proud of our guys,” GCU head coach Dan Majerle said afterwards. “We’ve had some ups and downs all year long, but we’ve never stopped fighting. I’m very happy that we have one more chance [against NMSU].”

In the semifinal against Utah Valley, the Lopes trailed 44-40 at halftime. In the second half, the Lopes hunkered down defensively, holding WAC POY Jake Toolson to zero points in the second half. Former Washington transfer Carlos Johnson single-handedly carried the Lopes on the offensive end, notching his second-straight 30-point scoring night of the tourney. Despite GCU second half dominance, the game went down to the wire as it remained mostly a single possession game up until the final minutes. Utah Valley failed to score a field goal in the final three-and-a-half minutes of the game. Oscar Frayer made a key put back basket in the final minutes and Trey Drechsel was able to seal the game with clutch free throw shooting.

The excitement surrounding GCU basketball has been told too many times, but the GCU faithful want the Lopes to deliver. For all the hype and success they have created, they have lacked the accomplishment that carries the most significance: the program’s first WAC championship and NCAA Tournament berth.

The Lopes will have the opportunity to accomplish that feat Saturday night. In order to earn their invite to the dance, the Lopes will have to dethrone WAC rulers New Mexico State. The Aggies have dominated the WAC over the last two decades, and the 2019 squad is one of the most talented and deepest teams in school history. The Aggies are riding an 18-game winning streak without any signs of slowing down. The Aggies are arguably the deepest team in college basketball, as head coach Chris Jans effectively utilizes a 14-man rotation.

GCU head coach Dan Majerle understands the tough task ahead of his team.

”We understand New Mexico State is a terrific team,” Majerle said. “They really are. To win as many games as they have and to go through the conference to lose their first game at Cal Baptist and not lose again — they’re terrific. Coach [Chris] Jans does an unbelievable job,” Majerle said.

In their short stint in the WAC together, New Mexico State has dominated the series against Grand Canyon; Dan Majerle’s Antelopes are 2-11 all-time against the Aggies. However, this season the Lopes played New Mexico State tough: They lost a heartbreaker in Las Cruces, where they controlled the game until NMSU hit a game-winning, half-court shot at the buzzer.

Talent-wise, the Lopes can match up with the Aggies roster. Despite recent disappointments against the Aggies Dan Majerle believes his team is confident.

“I would say this: Our guys have a level of confidence that they know that they can beat them,” Majerle said. “Now, we understand that we’re going to have to play really hard and really well. But there’s no reason that these guys don’t think that they can come in here and beat them.”

The Lopes are playing their some of their best basketball. Carlos Johnson has been an absolute scoring machine, GCU has finally adjusted to playing without their top defender Gerard Martin and they have been rebounding the ball well on both ends of the floor.

The Lopes game against New Mexico St tomorrow should be the most anticipated game in program history. The Lopes should give the Aggies their biggest test. Dan Majerle needs to will his team to accomplish this milestone. GCU has already avenged its last two losses by beating Seattle and Utah Valley to get to the championship game. Now NMSU is the only stepping in their way of completing their revenge tour and securing their trip to the dance.

Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. PST on ESPNU.