Grand Canyon grinds out eighth straight win

slider gcu_lopesAlthough there is no PacWest Conference Tournament until next season, Thursday’s game between California Baptist and Grand Canyon had all the feel and excitement of a championship game.

Both teams came out slugging, and the one standing at the end would truly deserve the victory.

Lopes guard Nick Witherill played 24 solid minutes, and had 15 points to lead Grand Canyon to their eighth straight victory, 71-63 over Cal Baptist.

With the victory, the Lopes improve to 18-7, 12-5 in the PacWest Conference.

Cal Baptist falls to 16-8, 10-7 in the conference.

Center Luke Evans led Cal Baptist with 22 points and eight rebounds. He was the only Lancer to score in double figures.

“The intensity level was really high,” said Lopes head coach Russ Pennell. “When you get to March, whatever level you’re at, the games become awful important.”

Grand Canyon needed balanced scoring to pull off the win, and they got it. The Lopes had four other players in double figures. 

Freshman guard Jerome Garrison had 13 points in his 28 minutes of play. He knew the Lancers were going to come in determined to walk out of GCU Arena with a victory.

“They didn’t want to lose this game, because they lost to us earlier, and they just wanted to get something on us,” said Garrison. “I think all night we just kept fighting at it, and it was something we knew we’d get done.”

The game started off physical and stayed that way throughout, as evidenced by the 46 fouls between the teams.

Grand Canyon seemed a little out of sync in the first half, due to the nature of the gameplay. They looked like a much more “together” team coming out for the second half, although the pace and intensity level never dipped.

Another thing that never dipped was the play of the Lopes’ defense. They held the Lancers to 39-percent shooting for the game. 

On the flip-side, Grand Canyon’s offense shot well, as they hit 50-percent of their shots.

“We made a more conscious effort to get the ball inside [in] the second half, and it paid off as we got to the foul line a lot,” Pennell said.

“A lot” meaning 23 times in the second half, with Grand Canyon making 14 of them. Overall they were 20-31 from the free-throw line. Cal Baptist was 12-17.

One aspect of the game where the Lopes had trouble was in their rebounding. Despite 10 rebounds from forward Braylon Pickrel, Grand Canyon was out rebounded 37-30, including 13-5 on the offensive glass.

“What I thought we didn’t do is pursue the ball,” said Pennell. “I thought we had some good box-outs, we just didn’t go get the ball.”

So there are some things the team needs to clean up, especially with the three-time conference champs, the Dixie State Red Storm coming to town for the regular season finale on Saturday night. 

The last time these two teams met was back in mid-January, with the Red Storm coming away with a 73-56 victory.

The game starts at 6:30 p.m.