WAC Tournament Preview: Sam Houston vs. Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon
Holland Woods (left) and Jovan Blacksher Jr. (10) are one of the best guard duos in the WAC. Courtesy GCU Athletics.
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Two weeks ago, Sam Houston had a chance to solidify its position as no worse than a 4-seed when it took on Grand Canyon in Phoenix.

After about two hours, the hope of a 4-seed was a distant memory.

Grand Canyon held the Bearkats to a season-low 25.8 percent shooting in a 67-41 win at GCU Arena. It was the lone game where Sam Houston star Savion Flagg did not score in double figures in 2021-22. The Lopes held the Bearkats to just 3-29 from 3-point land. It was a bit of payback for January 22 when Jaden Ray hit a 3-pointer to propel Sam Houston to a 58-56 win over the Lopes in the first meeting.

And now we get the rubber match. Savion Flagg and the Bearkats got their trip to Las Vegas started with a dominating 30-point win over California Baptist on Wednesday. Flagg hit three straight 3-pointers to put Sam Houston up by nine just three minutes into the game. And freshman guard Javon Grant gave Sam Houston an instant spark off the bench. And the Bearkats first trip to Las Vegas got off to a good start.

No. 5 Sam Houston 19-13 (13-5, in the WAC)

The best thing that happened for Sam Houston on Wednesday was they had such a big lead that its starters could get some extra rest. Okay, perhaps that was not the best thing. It was the fact that Sam Houston hit 10 3-pointers, shot 47 percent from the field and got off to a fast start in its first WAC Tournament game.

Savion Flagg had 15 points and 13 rebounds. After the first two minutes of the game, Flagg just had six points. It was the role players that played a significant role in Wednesday’s win. Freshman guard Javon Grant gave Jason Hooten a huge boost. Grant’s quickness and ability to beat defender’s off the dribble was a big part of Sam Houston extending its lead. Add in the fact that Sam Houston was solid on the defensive end, and you have a recipe for success. The big question is: will the Bearkats be able to shoot as well against a GCU squad it has struggled with offensively all season?

Player to Watch:

Sr. G Demarkus Lampley

In the two games against GCU, Demarkus Lampley did not play well. And, it has been a pretty uneven season for the senior guard. And knowing that GCU has two of the best guards in the WAC, Lampley has to be much better on Thursday night if Sam Houston is to advance. Grand Canyon’s defensive game plan will be to slow down Savion Flagg. So, other Bearkats will have to step up. This is where Lampley, among others, comes to the forefront. Lampley averages 10.2 points per game.

And on Thursday night, Lampley is going to have to have a good offensive game if the Bearkats are going to advance at WAC Vegas. In both games against GCU this season, Lampley had 8 points combined and Sam Houston had 58 and 41 total points in the series split. They will have to be much better at Orleans Arena on Thursday.

“It’s a huge challenge,” Sam Houston head coach Jason Hooten said. “They’re very well coached. They’ve got size. They’ve got a guy on their team that could have very easily been Player of the Year … we’ll be ready to play tomorrow and it will be a lot of fun.”

No. 4 Grand Canyon 22-7 (13-5, in the WAC)

Grand Canyon is rolling into WAC Vegas. The Lopes won four straight to end the regular season and one of those wins was a 26-point win over Sam Houston on Feb. 26 in Phoenix. The Lopes have arguably the best guard duo in the WAC. Jovan Blacksher Jr. and Holland Woods are a two-headed monster that can go off at any time. And any time they both go off, the Lopes are more than likely going to win. They average a combined 30-plus points per game and are the only Lopes averaging double figures. Blacksher Jr. averages 16.0 points while Woods averages 14.1 points.

The good news for head coach Bryce Drew is others have stepped up recently. Chance McMillian has been really good off the bench. And Taeshon Cherry adds a level of energy whenever he steps on the floor for GCU. The Lopes don’t have the same skilled bigs they had on last year’s WAC Tourney title team. But, Yvan Ouedraogo, Gabe McGlothan, and Dima Zdor along with Aidan Igiehon have been key to defending the paint.

Keep an eye on Sean Miller-Moore. When the Oregon State transfer plays well, GCU is more prone to a win.

Player to Watch:

Sr. G Sean Miller-Moore

The player known as ‘Rugzy’ to the GCU family is arguably the most athletic player in the WAC. Miller-Moore’s leaping ability gets put on full display quite often. This is especially true when the Lopes get out in transition. Miller-Moore averages about 7.5 points per game for the Lopes. And with his size, Bryce Drew tends to give Miller-Moore some important defensive assignments.

You can bet that Miller-Moore will be asked to guard Savion Flagg on Thursday night. Keep an eye on this. Miller-Moore is an energy guy who can go off at any point. But, will trying to guard one of the best players in the WAC use up too much energy on the defensive end? Just look at the two games against Sam Houston this season. Miller-Moore had four points in one game and six in the other.

Tip-off is set for 6:00 p.m. PT at the Orleans Arena. You can stream the game on ESPN+, as well. The winner of Thursday night’s game advances to Friday’s semifinals where they get to face No. 1 seed New Mexico State.

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