Courtesy Western Athletic Conference

Grand Canyon Women’s Basketball 2022-23 Season Preview

In the two seasons since taking the reins in 2020, head coach Molly Miller has turned GCU Women’s Basketball into a winner. Prior to Miller’s hiring, the Lopes had just one 20-win season and just one conference tourney win.

However, the culture and mentality has changed for the GCU women’s basketball team. GCU has 40 wins in two seasons under Miller. Add to that a pair of WAC championship appearances and a WNIT appearance in 2021-22. Not too shabby. And now the Lopes are looking to get over the hump and earn that evasive trip to the NCAA Tournament. 

Although the team suffered some big losses this off-season including former WAC scoring champion Amara Graham, the recruiting by the Lopes’ staff was once again fantastic. 

The impressive recruiting class is highlighted by intra-conference transfers Aaliyah Collins from Chicago State, Syd Palma from California Baptist, and out-of-conference transfers Olivia Lane and Evan Zars (who both come from the Summit League). 

GCU looks to make noise in the WAC and potentially win it all to earn Miller her first ever Division I conference title. 

Head Coach:

Molly Miller (3rd Year)

At Grand Canyon:

40-17

Career Record:

219-32 overall (DI and DII)

2021-2022 Season Record:

21-8

Post Season:

Lost in the WAC Championship game to SFA. Lost to New Mexico in 1st Round of WNIT

Departures:

Chloe Akin-Otiko – Graduated

Tianna Brown – Graduated

Taylor Caldwell – Grad Transferred to Cal State Bakersfield

Kassidy Dixon – In Transfer Portal

Kiyley Flowers – Transferred to Southeast Missouri

Amara Graham – Graduated

Ny’Dajah Jackson – Graduated

Jay McChristine – Graduated

Kennedi Shorts – Graduated

Newcomers:

Aaliyah Collins 5-7, So., Transfer (Chicago State)

Olivia Lane 6-2, Jr., Transfer (North Dakota)

Maisa Marcal 5-9, Jr., Transfer (Independence (Kansas))

Sydney Palma 5-9, RS Jr., Grad Transfer (California Baptist)

Evan Zars 6-2, Sr., Grad Transfer (Western Illinois)

Key Returners:

Tiarra Brown 5-9, Jr., G

Dominique Phillips 6-0, Sr., F

Ja’Mya Powell-Smith 5-5, So., PG

Tiara Brown is one of a handful of returners for GCU and head coach Molly Miller. Courtesy Western Athletic Conference.

Projected Starting Lineup:

G – Sydney Palma

G – Tiarra Brown

F – Dominique Phillips

F – Olivia Lane

F – Evan Zars

6th – Aaliyah Collins

Deciding who would be starting at 1-3 was incredibly difficult due to the depth GCU has at the guard position. Although Aaliyah Collins is certainly more than capable of being a starter in this conference, it would make the most sense for Miller to start the upperclassmen Palma, Brown, and Phillips over her at least to begin with. No one would be surprised if those three were shuffled throughout the season to experiment with finding the best fit. Ja’Mya Powell-Smith and Naudia Evans may get chances to start some games as well. 

On the other hand, Lane and Zars are a lock to start in the post. Zars would most likely be in the 5-slot over Lane due to rebounding stats historically, but those two could potentially switch around as well.  

Outlook:

GCU, as they have been the last few years, is an extremely capable squad once again this season. The additions of talented guards and post players improved the team overall and put them in the running to win the WAC in 2023. 

One of the most exciting transfers this off-season is sophomore Aaliyah Collins from Chicago State. Last season as a true freshman Collins led the Cougars with 14.6 PPG, which ranked her 7th in the WAC in scoring. Not only is she dangerous offensively, but she is also a menace on the defensive end. She averaged 2.4 steals per game, she put her 6th amongst freshmen nationally. And her hard work did not go unnoticed. Not only was she named to two All-WAC teams, but she was also the first ever CSU student-athlete to earn the USBWA National Freshman of the Week honors. She has a bright future ahead of her, and the Lopes are without a doubt glad she decided to come to Phoenix. 

Another talented transfer is forward Olivia Lane transferring in from North Dakota. She averaged 11.8 points and 9.0 rebounds for the Hawks last season. Standing at 6’2”, she and fellow Summit League transfer Evan Zars bring height and consistent post play to a team that struggled against taller opponents last season. Thanks to these two, very few teams in the WAC will have a taller lineup, giving the Lopes a huge advantage that they haven’t had in recent years.  

season preview
Ja’Mya Powell-Smith played in all 32 games as a true freshman in 2021-22. Courtesy Western Athletic Conference.

Areas of Improvement: 

Offensively, 2021-2022 wasn’t the best year for the Lopes percentage-wise. Last season they shot 39.7 percent from the field, placing them in 9th in the WAC. This is something Coach Miller has addressed in interviews and is certainly a big reason why so much offensive firepower was brought to the squad this off-season. Although historically Miller emphasizes defense, surely she has been working on offensive fundamentals more now than ever to try to move the Lopes up in the rankings. 

GCU was also somewhat in the middle of the pack in scoring in general with 65.8 points per game, placing them 6th overall. Considering the smothering defense the team is capable of, improving their offensive consistency may be the difference between winning the WAC championship game and simply appearing in it. 

About the author

Chelsea Mendelson

On-Air Talent and Producer with GCUTV. Former basketball player and current basketball fan. Proud to be a woman in sports.

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