If there’s one thing I think we’ve all been asked to learn in this era of COVID-19 and college athletics, it’s to expect the unexpected. Utah Valley University and Grand Canyon University were originally supposed to both be idle this week and play a series on March 5 and 6 in Orem. However, the announcement came Monday morning that both sides were going to play that series this week. Tip off both days is set for 2pm Mountain (1pm Pacific) on the WAC Digital Network.
Grand Canyon, led by first year head coach Molly Miller, is coming off a stretch of four Western Athletic Conference games in eight days. This road trip will be the Lopes first in almost two months, since they went 2-1 over a six day span in mid-December.
They thrive on turnovers and defensive pressure. In their sweeps a week ago Grand Canyon forced a total of 89 (22.3 per game).
Players to Watch
*Katie Scott (Freshman Center from Carl Junction, MO):
YTD>>17.6 PPG (while shooting 56.5% from the field & 51.6% from 3), 5.9 RPG, 1.8 APG & 1.8 SPG
-Has been in double figure scoring four of her last six games averaging 14.3 PPG in that span.
-Three time WAC Ticketstarter Player of the Week award winner
*Taylor Caldwell (Redshirt Sophomore Guard from Bakersfield, CA)
YTD>>10.3 PPG (while shooting 39% from the field & 27.3% from 3), 4.3 RPG, 3.5 APG, 3.1 SPG
-Had three straight games in double figure scoring between a non-conference loss v Idaho State and both games against Tarleton State. 4-11 from three point range in that stretch (36.4%). Averaging 3.0 APG over her last six contests.
*Laura Piera (Junior Point Guard from Barcelona, Spain)
YTD>>10.2 PPG (while shooting 42.5% from the field & 33% from beyond the arc), 3.1 RPG, 2.3 APG, and 3.0 SPG
-Four straight games in double figure scoring shooting 20/42 (47.6%) from the field and 6/11 (54.5%) on 3s in that stretch. Also recorded ten steals over those four games.
After getting swept by 1st place California Baptist University in their opening series Utah Valley University has gone undefeated but finds themself tied for 3rd place entering play this week.
Players to Watch:
*Josie Williams (Junior Center from West Haven, UT)
YTD>>15.4 PPG on 51.6% FG shooting (50% from 3 with only six taken), 2.1 BPG and 1.6 APG
-Has been a double figure scorer in eight of nine games this season. Recorded four double doubles. Current WAC Ticketstarter Player of the Week.
*Maria Carvalho (Junior Guard from Lisbon, Portugal)
YTD>>12.3 PPG on 33.9% FG shooting (26.1% from 3), 4.6 RPG, 3.2 APG and 1.2 SPG
-Double figure scorer in eight of nine games this season. Currently on a streak of six straight games in that statistic. Recorded at least three assists in four of the team’s last six games.
*Nehaa Sohail (Redshirt Junior from El Paso, TX)
YTD>>10.2 PPG on 40.3% FG shooting (41.9% from 3), 7.4 RPG, 2.4 APG and 1.2 BPG
-Double figure scorer in four of nine games this season. Recorded a season high seven assists last Saturday vs Chicago State. 8-15 from 3 (53.3%) in her last four games.
If Grand Canyon and CBU take care of business this week it sets up a huge showdown in Riverside next weekend. The regular season championship will be up for grabs between the Lopes and Lancers. Should Utah Valley play spoiler they can keep themselves in the race depending on events in Edinburg although CBU won their matchups head to head.
Keys to the Series
1. Can Utah Valley Handle the Pressure?
The Lopes have consistently demonstrated an ability this season to turn teams over at an impressive rate, leading nationally in that category at just over twenty six.
2. Battle in the Paint
Katie Scott has gotten off to an impressive start this season in WAC play but faces arguably the league’s best post players in this next stretch (Utah Valley’s Williams along with the dynamic duo of Harper & Thomas from CBU). Josie Williams is 6’5″ and can make life very difficult for the Lopes down low this weekend. Williams averages 2.1 blocks per game and has length to alter shots as well. Scott is a very capable perimeter shooter, however. So it will be interesting to see how Wolverines coach Dan Nielson chooses to defend her.
3. Perimeter success
Opponents are outshooting Utah Valley from 3 point range by percentage (32.4% to 31.9%) converting an average of six per contest. Last week the Lopes were 26-69 from distance (37.7%) and averaged 6.5 makes per contest (8 in their last three games). Piera and Ny’Dajah Jackson are the only Lopes at 33% or greater with at least 40 attempts. Sohail and Madison Grange are Utah Valley’s main threats from deep shooting above 40% with at least 10 makes and 25 attempts.
Prediction: Grand Canyon in a sweep although I get the feeling these games will be closer than folks think.