Three weeks ago, the GCU men’s basketball team scored 13 first-half points at home on Senior Night. It was part of a 65-54 loss to Seattle U to mark the end of the home slate of games.
Then, a players-only meeting was put together by forward Yvan Ouedraogo. The rest is history.
GCU has won six straight games away from GCU Arena. One of those wins was at Southern Utah in a place no other WAC team won in 2022-23. Then there was the revenge game at Utah Tech.
That was followed by one of the most impressive shooting performances over a 4-game span. GCU hit 44 3-pointers, shot nearly 60 percent from the perimeter and won four games in five days to earn a trip back to The Big Dance.
In fact, between the semifinal win over Sam Houston and the title game against SUU, the Lopes combined to hit 29 3-pointers. GCU hit 16 3-pointers against Sam Houston and 13 3-pointers in the win over SUU.
If that’s not impressive, perhaps this is: GCU only had 25 made field goals against Sam Houston. That means 64 percent of the made field goals in the semifinal win came from 3-point land.
The big key for the Lopes is that it wasn’t just one guy shooting lights out. Sure, Ray Harrison opened the WAC Tournament with a 30-point performance against UT Arlington. And yes, Gabe McGlothan went for 35 points in the win over Seattle U.
But, Kobe Knox, Chance McMillian, Noah Baumann and Walter Ellis all got hot at the right time, as well. In the win over Sam Houston, McMillian, Knox and Baumann combined to go 15-22 from 3-point land. Knox was a perfect 6-6 from distance in the win. It was needed considering Ray Harrison was in foul trouble all night.
In the title game, Harrison, McGlothan and Baumann took over. The trio was 12-17 from 3-point land in the 18-point win. Both Harrison and Baumann were 5-7 from distance. GCU hit 10-plus 3-pointers in three straight games at the Orleans Arena.
Now, the 14-seed Lopes face 3-seed Gonzaga on Friday night in Denver. Can the Lopes stay red hot in their second trip to the NCAA Tournament in three years?
“We’ve been built into a resilient team, so we’re going to play our basketball, resilient basketball, and leave it all out there,” said Lopes junior power forward Gabe McGlothan.
Dealing with Adversity
GCU has dealt with some adversity in 2022-23. In early January, Preseason WAC Player of the Year Jovan Blacksher Jr. went down with a torn ACL in a win at Sam Houston. Along with Blacksher’s injury, Yvan Ouedraogo was recovering from a fractured wrist suffered against Pepperdine in late December.
However, after a challenging conference slate that saw GCU finish 5th in the league, the Lopes have responded down the stretch.
A big reason why is the leadership of Yvan Ouedraogo. While the stats don’t stick out, Ouedraogo does the little things, setting screens, rebounding, and defending, that seem to go unnoticed.
In fact, the way Ouedraogo sets screens got the attention of one WAC coach.
“He might be the best screener in the country,” Sam Houston head coach Jason Hooten said after the WAC semifinals.
However, on Friday night, Ouedraogo is going to draw the assignment to guard one of the best bigs in America. Ouedraogo will guard Gonzaga’s Drew Timme. A matchup that many feel favors Timme. GCU head coach Bryce Drew knows all about how difficult guarding Drew Timme will be.
“He has seen every type of defense and double team the last four years,” Drew said. “He’s obviously an extremely tough matchup. We’re going to do the best that we can, but he’s just a really good player. He has a great footwork and touch. We’ve got to keep him off the offensive glass. If he does score, we’ve got to make it tougher and not layups and beating us in transition.”
And while Gonzaga has a guy, GCU also has a guy.
Remember the name: Ray Harrison.
Sure, 2022-23 was a slow start for the Presbyterian transfer. However, with the ball in his hands, the 6-4 guard has been special for the Lopes. Two 30-point games in the WAC Tournament. Leading the WAC in scoring during league play. Getting to the free throw line. The ability to finish at the rim or knock down a perimeter shot. No matter what the scouting report is or the defensive game plan, Harrison has been really, really good.
“He’s kind of like the engine of their team,” Gonzaga 6-foot-4 junior guard Malachi Smith said.
Harrison will have to be the engine on Friday night. However, GCU has other offensive weapons that are getting hot at the right time. Is an upset brewing? It is March Madness after all. GCU president Brian Mueller has said that GCU wants to be the Gonzaga of the WAC. Well, the Lopes have a perfect opportunity on Friday night at Ball Arena in Denver.
Tip is set for 5:35 p.m. MT on TruTV.