If you don’t think that WAC Wednesday features a pair of revenge games, I will try to enlighten you.
Last season, three teams finished with a 14-4 record in WAC play. New Mexico State, Seattle U and Stephen F. Austin.
The fourth seed finished with a 13-5 record. GCU was that fourth seed. And had it not been for a rather shocking upset in St. George, the Lopes would have earned a share of the regular season title, as well.
That is one revenge game.
The second revenge game is about a team who used its lack of size to its advantage in a pair of wins. Perhaps some remember how the L.A. Clippers came back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Utah Jazz a few years ago in the NBA playoffs. The Clippers went small, extended the floor, and basically forced Rudy Gobert out of the paint. Game over. Similar story in the second revenge game on WAC Wednesday.
So, let’s take a look at each of these revenge games.
Abilene Christian at Utah Valley – 6 p.m. MT ESPN+
Remember that analogy of Ruby Gobert above? Yeah, ACU head coach Brette Tanner came up with a game plan to beat Utah Valley in 2021-22. And it worked…twice. In the first WAC game for the Wildcats, Tanner used Cam Steele and Airion Simmons to extend the Utah Valley defense. This forced WAC Defensive Player of the Year, Fardaws Aimaq, to make a decision: stay in the paint and protect the rim, or come out and defend the perimeter.
Well, Aimaq chose the latter. And Simmons and Steele lit up the UCCU Center from the perimeter.
In the WAC tournament, ACU did the same thing to eventually end Utah Valley’s 2021-22 season.
So, Wednesday night is a revenge game for Utah Valley. And it’s more than just last season. Utah Valley saw its 11-game win streak snapped on Saturday. So, getting back in the win column ahead of a big showdown in Phoenix on Saturday is another reason for Wednesday night’s revenge game theme.
ACU may go with the same game plan it had in both games last season. Cam Steele and Airion Simmons are still at ACU. And Utah Valley has a 7-footer in Aziz Bandaogo to protect the paint. This should be an entertaining game to tip off WAC Wednesday.
Utah Tech at Grand Canyon – 7 p.m. MT ESPN+
There it was…the regular season title in site. The final six games of the 2021-22 season were winnable games. Well, except for New Mexico State. But that is another story.
Coming off a 79-69 win at Utah Valley, the Lopes looked to be rolling. Holland Woods and Jovan Blacksher Jr. went off against the Wolverines. And heading into the Burns Arena, GCU should have rolled.
But, Jon Judkins group had different ideas. The Trailblazers were not eligible for the WAC tournament so they had nothing to lose. And they played the role of spoiler to perfection in a 61-60 win over the Lopes. The loss cost GCU a share of the regular season title.
So, Wednesday night at GCU Arena, it is a revenge game for a Lopes squad that is hurting. Along that same thread, Utah Tech is also banged up.
Ray Harrison is playing at a Player of the Year level for the Lopes. Gabe McGlothan is carrying GCU on his shoulders. And it is just a matter of time before Noah Baumann can get consistent.
For Utah Tech, feed Tanner Christensen and let him work. Establish the paint. Force GCU to dig which will create opportunities from the perimeter.
Both teams are coming off losses. So, it is almost a must-win situation for both teams. GCU must not get caught looking ahead as the Lopes host Utah Valley on Saturday.