The Grand Canyon men’s basketball team ended a wonderful regular season with nine straight victories, and a berth in the Division II Basketball Championship.
They enter the tournament as the eighth seed, and will travel to Bellingham, Wash., on Friday night to take on the top-seeded and 11th-ranked Western Washington Vikings (25-5) on their home court.
The Vikings have two all-GNAC players in senior forward Rory Blanche and junior guard John Allen.
Lopes head coach Russ Pennell is well aware of the tough road that his team is heading down starting on Friday night.
“Real put together athletes,” said Pennell. “We’ll have our work cut out for us, especially playing on their home floor, but we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
The Lopes defense has been especially strong all season, and will have to continue that trend on Friday night if they expect to advance to the next round the following night.
Forward Braylon Pickrel, the hero from last Saturday night’s win over Dixie State, said the key to stopping the Vikings’ high powered offense is to do what they do best: play good, sound defense for 40 minutes.
Pickrel noted how strong Western Washington is from three-point range, as they’ve hit nearly 40-percent of their shots from distance.
“We just really gotta do a good job of getting back in transition,” Pickrel said. “Offense we believe will take care of itself, especially if we get stops.”
The Lopes had a high energy, very spirited practice on Tuesday, as they get ready for the team’s first tournament appearance under Coach Pennell.
Senior guard Kyle Speed looked especially ready for Friday. His body language and attitude during practice spoke volumes for where he’s at right now.
Speed said it’s not time to change up a thing right now, but just keep playing Lopes basketball.
“Just fine tuning things,” Speed said, in regards to what he and the team worked on.
“We’re not gonna change anything,” Speed said. “We just wanna make sure we’re at our best when we go up to Washington.”
History hasn’t been too kind to the Lopes, as they’re 0-5 against the Vikings, including three losses during the 2009-10 season.
This is a totally different team than the one who faced Western Washington back then.
Speed wasn’t aware of the losing streak, but it didn’t seem to phase him one bit.
“It’s definitely a great time as any, I feel like, to go ahead and break that streak,” he said.
Should the Lopes win, they’ll take on either No. 4 seeded Humboldt State or No. 5 seeded Chico State in the semifinals on Saturday.
You can watch Friday night’s game on the Lopes website, www.gculopes.com.