A two-game series on back-to-back nights. What’s not to like about conference play in 2021? Adjustments have to be made on the fly. Games could be completely different on the second night of the series. And from what we have seen around the country, series sweeps are hard to come by.
On Saturday night, both Grand Canyon and Utah Valley will look for a series sweep. The Lopes are fresh off a 75-72 win in a thriller at Tarleton State. And Utah Valley is coming off a dominant performance in a 27-point win over California Baptist.
Let’s breakdown each series finale.
California Baptist at Utah Valley – 6 p.m. MT – WAC Digital Network
Shooting, rebounding and avoiding foul trouble keys for CBU
Coming into Friday night, CBU was averaging 90-plus points per game. Ty Rowell and Reed Nottage were averaging nearly 34 points per game combined. And the Lancers were shooting nearly 40 percent from 3-point land.
Perhaps you can attribute the struggles in the series opener to rust. CBU hasn’t played a game since Dec. 12 due to COVID issues. Perhaps it was just a great defensive game plan put together by Utah Valley head coach Mark Madsen and his staff. Whatever it was, CBU never got going offensively.
Rowell and Nottage combined for just nine points. CBU shot 35 percent from the field and a whopping 22 percent from beyond the arc. And the Lancers got thoroughly dominated on the boards, 49-26.
Obviously, in order to avoid a series sweep to open conference play, all those stats have to change. Nottage has to avoid foul trouble. Think about that. Reed Nottage fouled out of Friday night’s contest with 19:10 still to play. That is a lot of time on the bench for the Lancers’ leading scorer.
Stay out of foul trouble, shoot with confidence, and rebound. Huge keys for the Lancers to avoid the series sweep.
Play with an edge, execute, and get the ball inside are keys for UVU
There was an edge that Utah Valley played with on Friday night that we haven’t seen before. The Wolverines were on attack mode nearly the entire night. And Utah Valley was relentless on the interior, getting any shot they wanted in the first half. Fardaws Aimaq was on his way to perhaps a 20-20 game before getting ejected early in the second half. Evan Cole was able to finish at the rim and both Trey Woodbury and Jamison Overton got buckets in the paint with relative ease.
That edge has to continue in the series finale on Saturday night. Perhaps keeping a cooler head while still being aggressive on the offensive side. Defensively, the Wolverines have to continue to push the CBU sharpshooters off the 3-point line. Head coach Mark Madsen said Jamison Overton is one of the best defenders in the nation. And on Saturday night, with adjustments being made, Overton will have to be even better defensively.
Perhaps the biggest thing for the Wolverines on Saturday night, is executing at a high level. Outside of a lapse to start the second half, Utah Valley had the foot on the gas the entire night on Friday. Mark Madsen said prior to this conference opening series that Utah Valley has to minimize those lapses. With Overton, Aimaq, Evan Cole and Trey Woodbury, that shouldn’t be a problem.
Last but not least, is pound the paint. The Wolverines had 42 points in the paint and 17 offensive boards on Friday night. While Gojok Gak is a rim protector for CBU, he lacks the physicality necessary to keep Aimaq and Cole out of the paint. Plus, Gak has to avoid foul trouble because CBU doesn’t have another post presence like him. This is where Utah Valley takes advantage. Coming off an early ejection, Aimaq will be on attack mode and have another monster game.
Grand Canyon at Tarleton State – 6 p.m. MT – ESPN+
Lever, Blacksher Jr need to come out swinging in series finale
Yes, GCU got the win on Friday night. Yes, the Lopes are going for a series sweep. And yes, Gabe McGlothan really saved the day for Lopes with his 14 points and seven rebounds off the bench.
McGlothan had to have the night he did.
WAC Player of the Year candidates Jovan Blacksher Jr. and Alessandro Lever had 0 points combined at halftime. Yes, you read that correctly. In fact, Lever only played 20 minutes on Friday night. It is just the second time all season he has played less than 25 minutes. The other game was against Benedictine Mesa when the Lopes won in blowout fashion.
As the second and third leading scorers for the Lopes, Lever and Blacksher Jr. have to play much better on Saturday night. Blacksher Jr. had 10 points in the second half on Friday night but he and Lever combined to go 3-12 from the field and 5-8 from the free throw line.
However, even with those performances, the Lopes showed they are deep team. Along with McGlothan, Mikey Dixon had another solid outing with 11 points. Sean Miller-Moore had seven points and Asbjørn Midtgaard had a team-high 19 points and nine rebounds.
If Blacksher Jr. and Lever get going on Saturday night, a series sweep will happen.
Find offensive help for Gipson and Small
Tarleton guard Tre Gipson was on fire, especially late in the game. Gipson single-handedly kept the Texans in the game and even had a chance to tie the game with 11 seconds left. His 3-point attempt fell short and he couldn’t add to his career-high 30 points.
Tahj Small had a double-double with 11 points and 14 rebounds. But the Texans didn’t have another player in double figures. Yes, we know that Billy Gillispie’s crew is very good defensively.
But, someone else has to step up and have a big night on Saturday night. Perhaps that is 6’6 forward Jonathan Jackson Jr. who was just 3-11 from the field on Friday night. Konstantin Dotsenko has shown flashes of brilliance at times.
With their ability to defend, if the Texans can get some more offensive production then avoiding a series sweep to open conference play is in the cards.