Majerle: Lopes Ready To Rise In Las Vegas

Thursday in Las Vegas the wait will finally be over for the Grand Canyon University men’s basketball team who are hoping to hit the jackpot and punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament by winning the Western Athletic Conference Tournament title in their first season of Division I eligibility.

The third-seeded Lopes, winners of the three in a row to end conference play, square off against #6 UMKC at the Orleans Arena at 1:00 Arizona time.

“Our guys are extremely excited about it, as am I,” GCU head coach Dan Majerle said to Sports360AZ.com’s Brad Cesmat in a recent phone interview. “It’s been a long four years and this is what we’ve worked for. Our guys have done a good job of getting ready for it and preparing for it all year-long.”

Despite a late-season road skid which led to three-consecutive losses, Majerle believes his team is ready for the challenge in what appears to be a wide open field entering the conference tournament.

“It says a lot about our program when we’re 20-10 and we find it to be a bit of a disappointing season,”  he explained. “We caught a little bit of a lull in the WAC there.”

The good news for GCU is leading scorer and senior leader Josh Braun appears to have found his shooting stroke and recently named First-Team All-WAC and Freshman of the Year Allessandro Lever continues to improve with each passing game. He’s averaging 11.3 points and 4.4 rebounds a game entering tournament play.

“Alessandro has been terrific all year and he’s really picked it up for us,” Majerle said.

The team, who will practice Wednesday at a local Vegas high school in preparation for their game against the Roos, is making their second trip to “Sin City” in the past three months. They beat Howard at the Orleans 100-74 back on December 27th.

It was the only time GCU reached the 100-point milestone all season.

“I joked whatever happened in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas,” Majerle quipped. “But unfortunately it did.”

The Lopes swept the regular season series, winning 86-69 in Kansas City on January 20th and 79-62 at GCU Arena on February 1st.

A Valley native, Eric has had a passion for the Arizona sports scene since an early age. He has covered some of the biggest events including Super Bowls, national championships and the NBA and MLB playoffs in his near 20 years in local media.