GCU Lopes Playing Hard for First Trip to NCAA Tournament

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GCU Coach Dan Majerle

After four long years of sitting on the sidelines while the WAC Tournament played out, GCU is finally eligible to hit the hardwood at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas this week. “I know our guys are excited this time of year. The last 4 years have been a grind, because they knew there was nothing at the end of the season for them. To keep pushing this year, they know that they can turn their season around. They know in just 3 games, if they play well, they can turn what seems a disappointing season into a really good one.” GCU head coach Dan Majerle said.

GCU senior guard Josh Braun, who was recently voted to the Academic All District 8 team adds, “It’s exciting, especially being here 4 years where we haven’t been able to go to the tournament. Everybody is basically zero-zero. We haven’t had the best conference play and we know that, but the cool thing is that we have a new life in the conference tournament. We know that we can beat anybody, and we know if we keep playing well, and get some momentum, and right this thing, we can have a good conference tournament showing.”

GCU finished the regular season with a 20-10 overall record, 9-5 in conference play. The Lopes, who wrapped up the season on a 3 game winning streak, will be the #3 seed in the tournament, and face #6 University Missouri-Kansas City in the first round on Thursday at Noon. “This is what you play for. It’s a lot of build up, a lot of expectation, and everything is on the line.” GCU senior guard Casey Benson said. Fellow senior forward Keonta Vernon adds, “It’s an opportunity to continue to play. At that point it’s win or go home. We’ve got to go to win 3 games, and then we can go to the big tournament.”

In WAC games, the Lopes have been led by underclassmen. Freshman center Alessandro Lever from Italy, is averaging 15.8 points per game, which leads the team, and ranks 3rd in the conference. Sophomore forward Oscar Frayer is averaging 10.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per contest. GCU leads the nation in three point field goal percentage defense, allowing just 27.1 percent from beyond the arc, and 135 three point goals made, the fewest of any team in the country.

For the Lopes to win big in Las Vegas, they will need to continue to focus on what they have been doing all season long. “Defensively we have to be solid, which we have been. Rebounding has always been a key for us. When we rebound well and outrebound our opponents, we’re usually really good and we win. And then, we just have to have guys step up offensively. I keep telling our guys, if Josh finds it or Casey, were capable of beating anybody. I like our chances, but we just got to play really tough, and offensively make some shots.” Majerle said.

Majerle, who is in his 5th season as GCU’s head coach, won his 100th career game against Utah Valley on February 24th, but is hoping to hit a bigger milestone before this season ends. He wants to win his first WAC title and lead the Lopes to its first ever trip to the NCAA Tournament. “We’ve been pushing for that the last 4 years. To be part of a group that gets to go in their first year, it would mean the world to everybody. This campus, this university, the support we’ve got, so our guys know that, and they’ve played hard for it.” Majerle said.

Benson, a graduate transfer, played in March Madness the last 3 years while at Oregon, including a trip to the Final 4 last season. The senior from Tempe Corona Del Sol high school has a simple message to his teammates this week. “Just stay in the moment. Don’t take any plays off knowing that if you lose your done. We are playing to go to the NCAA Tournament. It’s a special thing. It’s what every player dreams about. It would be so special to get to share it with these guys. To be the first team in school history to do that, there would be nothing like that. To be able to say you started something like that, and to do it with my brother (GCU assistant coach TJ Benson) and Coach Majerle, it would be awesome to be able to share that with everybody here.” Benson said.

“I can’t even put it into words. It’s something we’ve all dreamt of growing up. Playing college basketball you want to be a part of that. Going to that tournament is huge for everybody.” Vernon said. Braun adds, “Every chance I’ve had to put on this GCU uniform, it’s been a blast and blessing. It’s meant a lot and I’ve been thankful for every opportunity I’ve had here. I just want to soak in every little bit that I have playing for this team and this program, and try and help us get to that tournament. It would be the perfect way to end my college career here. I would enjoy every minute of that. That would be the icing on the cake.”