It is a busy Saturday around the WAC. There was supposed to be six games on the slate. However, some news came to light last night out of Las Cruces that sets the slate at just five games.
Good news is the slate is filled with some really good basketball games. Three of the five games are in-state games. One of those three is a matchup for first place in the WAC standings. And in the late night game in the Pacific Northwest, an intriguing matchup is taking place at the Redhawk Center.
After news came out that New Mexico State’s program is put on the shelf indefinitely, California Baptist has to scramble to find a game for its Homecoming celebration.
With that being said, let’s take a look at a busy Saturday around the WAC.
Sam Houston (17-6, 7-4 WAC) at Abilene Christian (13-11, 5-6 WAC) – 6 p.m. CT ESPN+
When I was in Abilene in September, Brette Tanner made an interesting observation when it came to the Sam Houston Bearkats.
“I don’t know what it is about those guys, but we always struggle against them.”
That might be a bit of an overstatement. The all-time series is 12-5 in favor of the Bearkats. Sam Houston has won seven of the last nine in the series including both games in 2021-22.
However, the first game was a one-possession game at the Teague Center last season. The second game, Savion Flagg hit a 3-pointer with two seconds remaining in regulation to send the game into overtime. Flagg and the Bearkats eventually won, 75-71, in the overtime period.
What will Saturday night at Moody Coliseum do for an encore? ACU has won three straight and scored 80-plus points in all three wins. Two of those wins came on the road at Seattle and at CBU last week.
In its past two road games, Sam Houston won on a buzzer-beater at UTRGV and got beat up at UT Arlington.
Saturday is the first of two meetings between the Bearkats and Wildcats over the next month. ACU and Sam Houston finish the regular season in Huntsville on March 3.
ACU likes to play a little chaotic defensively, leading to transition opportunities. Sam Houston wants to slow things down and the Bearkats can get after teams defensively.
Keep an eye on Kian Scroggins and Cam Huefner. They will have the matchup of guarding Joe Pleasant and Airion Simmons.
Stephen F. Austin (15-9, 7-4 WAC) at UTRGV (12-13, 3-9 WAC) – 6:30 p.m. CT ESPN+
The SFA Lumberjacks have three straight in the series with the Vaqueros. All three of those wins have come by double digits. SFA won a share of the WAC regular season title on the final day of league play in 2021-22 with a 30-point win over the Vaqueros in Edinburg.
In the first meeting in 2022-23, SFA ran away with a 17-point win over UTRGV.
It is safe to say, SFA has UTRGV’s number. The Jacks have had a week off to prepare for Justin Johnson and the Vaqueros. It was also an opportunity for the Jacks to get back on track after losing a pair of games the week before at New Mexico State and at GCU.
UTRGV is coming off an ugly home loss to UT Arlington on Thursday. The offensive-minded Vaqueros shot just 37 percent from the field and scored just 58 points in the 64-58 loss. It is the sixth straight game the Vaqueros have failed to score 70-plus points.
Saturday night in Edinburg may be a shootout, though. SFA averages 76.5 points and gives up almost 68 points per game. The Jacks gave up 73 and 86, respectively, to New Mexico State and GCU.
Keep an eye on whoever guards Justin Johnson. Kyle Keller has multiple players he can throw at arguably the most versatile player in the WAC.
Southern Utah (17-8, 9-3 WAC) at Utah Valley (19-6, 10-2 WAC) – 6 p.m. MT ESPN+
You can read the write-up from Friday that was put out regarding this game.
Tarleton (13-12, 6-6 WAC) at Utah Tech (11-14, 3-9 WAC) – 7 p.m. MT ESPN+
This is one of two games Saturday featuring teams not from the same state. But, don’t let that fool you. These two teams don’t like each other a whole lot. They are both in year three of the transition period to the Division I level. Both are eligible for the WAC Tournament. And both have played the spoiler role throughout the last two years.
Tarleton has won three of the four games in the series since both teams joined the WAC in 2020-21. Two of those three wins have come in St. George. Freddy Hicks went off on the Trailblazers in the 2021-22 WAC opener for both teams at Burns Arena. Hicks had 27 points to lead the Texans to an 83-69 win to open WAC play last season.
In the first meeting in 2022-23, the Texans held off the Trailblazers, 74-72, in Stephenville. Tarleton got off to a hot start, leading by 22 at the half. But, the Trailblazers came storming back behind Isaiah Pope who finished with 27. Unfortunately, the Trailblazers couldn’t get over the hump late.
Utah Tech needs a win to possibly improve its seed for WAC Vegas. Tarleton could use a road win plus, if the Texans get some help from UTRGV, Tarleton could move up to the 6-seed.
Tanner Christensen is the key for Utah Tech. And Shamir Bogues is going to be the key for Tarleton. Sure, we know all about the Utah Tech guards led by Cam Gooden. And we know all about Freddy Hicks.
But, Christensen and Bogues have an immediate impact on a ball game when they play well.
Grand Canyon (16-8, 7-4 WAC) at Seattle U (17-8, 8-4 WAC) – 7 p.m. PT ESPN+
Saturday night at the Redhawk Center features the second-best game of the Saturday slate. GCU is trying to move into a top-4 seed for WAC Vegas. The Lopes sit .28 points back of that 4-seed. That is why Saturday night is so important. Seattle U occupies that 4-seed at the moment. The Redhawks lost four straight before picking up a win on Wednesday over Utah Tech. GCU is coming off back-to-back wins over SFA and New Mexico State.
Saturday night also features two Player of the Year candidates going head-to-head. Seattle U guard Cam Tyson can light it up at any given moment. Tyson is second in the WAC in scoring at 19.17 points per game. GCU features Ray Harrison, who has been dynamite in WAC play. Harrison is currently averaging 16.96 points per game.
However, Harrison has a 38-point performance and a 28-point performance (2x) under his belt in WAC play. Harrison averaged 18.0 points per game in his past two WAC games.
Keep an eye on Riley Grigsby and Chance McMillian. Grigsby is the Robin to Tyson’s Batman. McMillian has taken over the role of point guard for GCU after the season-ending injury to Jovan Blacksher. Both players can shoot it from the perimeter as well as finish around the rim.
Grigsby is second on the Redhawks in scoring at 13.2 points per game. McMillian averaged 18.0 points in the past two GCU wins. These two complimentary players will play a key role in who wins on Saturday night at the Redhawk Center.
Other Game on the Saturday Slate
West Coast Baptist at California Baptist – 7 p.m. PT ESPN+
Saturday is Homecoming for the Lancers. So, after the news of New Mexico State having to cancel the game, the Lancers had to find a game. CBU Events Center was sold out for Saturday night’s game. So, the Lancers scrambled and found an opponent to play. It might be a good opportunity for the Lancers to get some mojo back. CBU has lost four straight and not looked good in three or the four losses.