Photo Credit: David Kadlubowski/GCU Athletics
LAS VEGAS – The chilly weather outside seemed a precursor for the Grand Canyon women’s basketball teams’ offense Saturday afternoon at The Orleans Arena.
Despite shooting just 37% from the field and 14% from behind the arc, the third-seeded Lopes’ nearly constant full-court defense forced 25 turnovers as GCU held off a late flurry to upset second-seeded Utah Valley 57-54 to advance to the WAC Tournament Championship.
— GCU Women’s Basketball (@GCU_WBB) March 13, 2021
“We have to rely on our defense and we have to rely on our toughness,” GCU freshman Katie Scott said after the win. “We didn’t play our best, especially offensively. [But] we were the aggressors from the [opening] tip.”
As mentioned GCU started slowly, making just one of their first seven shots from the field, but pulled even at 12 on Laura Piera’s three-pointer at the buzzer to end the first quarter.
The shot seemed to energize the Lopes who, despite continuing to struggle from the field in the first half – 31% on field goals, 14% on three-pointers – took a 23-19 lead into intermission behind Tiarra Brown’s seven points. GCU’s pressing defense seemed to bother the Wolverines who turned it over 11 times in the first 20 minutes of play.
Similar to the opening quarter, the Lopes struggled offensively to start the third quarter. Utah Valley opened on a 6-0 scoring spurt before a Scott bucket stopped the bleeding. The teams went back and forth in the evenly contested matchup and the game was tied at 36 entering the final 10 minutes of play.
Scott’s size and strength took over in the fourth quarter. Her three-point play pushed the Lopes’ lead to 55-45 with just over three minutes to play.
“Our goal was to come in and win the WAC tournament, and we said that Day 1,” first-year head coach Molly Miller said after the game. “Now we’ve put ourselves in a position to do that, going to the championship game. Couldn’t be prouder. Really excited for [Saturday].”
Utah Valley made a late push late in the fourth quarter and had a chance to tie the game and send it to overtime but the Wolverines’ desperation, last-second three-pointer was off the mark as the Lopes’ bench flooded on the floor in celebration.
— The Western Athletic Conference (@WACsports) March 12, 2021
“It’s going to be a four-quarter grind,” Scott said of GCU’s style. “We’re made for fourth quarters. That’s where we really shine.”
Scott paced the Lopes in points (18) and rebounds (6). Brown added 15 points, five rebounds and three assists.
The Lopes (18-4) have now won four-straight and will face top-seed, undefeated California Baptist Saturday afternoon at 3:00 Arizona time. The winner will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament next week.
Cal Baptist (23-0) won the two regular season meetings in Riverside, CA last month.