After finishing runner-up in the WAC Tournament, GCU has more postseason action on their schedule. The Lopes (22-11) will play in the 16 team CBI (College Basketball Invitational). GCU will host a first-round match-up against Mercer (18-14) from the Southern Conference on Wednesday at 7:00 pm at GCU Arena. The Bears knocked off Duke in the 1st round of the NCAA Tournament in 2014.
“They’re a good team. They won their last 8 regular season games. They are playing really well. It’s going to be a tough game. They’re a really good offensive team. We expect a really hard game.” GCU head coach Dan Majerle said. GCU senior guard Josh Braun adds, “They’re a good team and we know we’ll have to play well to beat them.”
GCU is coming off their first-ever appearance in the WAC Tournament in Las Vegas, where they beat UMKC (77-74) in the first round and Utah Valley (75-60) in the semifinals, before falling to New Mexico State (72-58) in the championship game.
“It was a great first step. Obviously, we wanted to win it, but to go there and experience it for the first time, and to be down 20-4 to UMKC and battle back to find a way to win a game like that was huge for the program. It would have been devastating to lose that first game. To push through and win that, and then to play Utah Valley, the 2nd seed, and to come through like that. To get off to a great lead, and they come back and we withstand the punch, to get to the championship game, it was a huge step for this program in our first year. That’s something we can build from, realizing what we have to do to be prepared for three games next year. I was very proud of our guys.” Majerle said.
For the seniors though, it was their one and only chance to lead GCU to its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. “We got to where we wanted to get to, but obviously didn’t take the last step. A lot of emotions. A lot of highs winning the first two games, and losing the last one was pretty emotional but still very grateful for it all.” GCU senior guard Casey Benson said. Braun adds, “We were frustrated. We have been working towards that (NCAA Tournament). Especially for me, I had been working towards that for 5 years and to not get the result that we wanted, it was a little upsetting. But I am so thankful for every opportunity I get. It’s been a blessing. It’s been awesome to be here. I think Grand Canyon is there to stay and make some noise in future tournaments to come.”
This year’s Lopes still have an opportunity to finish the season on a high note and win a postseason tournament that includes fellow WAC teams Utah Valley, Seattle, and UTRGV (University of Texas Rio Grande Valley). “You want to finish out on a high note. It’s kind of surreal it’s coming to a close, but we know we’ve got this last opportunity here, so just go out and make the most of it, and go out and win it.”.” Benson said.
For GCU, a chance to play more games this season will also help the Lopes as they look towards the future. “Another couple weeks of practice hopefully. Playing games, competing, and just winning every time out. I think it’s going to be good for our young guys to get some more time together, and just get used to postseason basketball. The recruiting that we are doing right now, it’s all very exciting. The program keeps getting better and better.” Majerle said.
GCU’s ascension will include freshman center Alessandro Lever, who led the Lopes in scoring this season averaging 12.2 points per game, 15.8 in WAC play. “During the season I feel like I’ve improved. The coaches, my teammates, everybody has tried to help me improve, and I am happy for that. I have 3 more years, so I am really excited about being here in this basketball program. And like Coach (Majerle) says, we want to be a Top 25 team and that is our goal. So that’s what we are working for.” Lever said.