Any team in any sport expects to win every game they play. Of course, not every team is able to do that, including the Lopes men’s basketball team. They started out 1-2, but they haven’t fallen since, winning 13 straight games.
The streak is the longest overall streak for the Lopes since they won 22 straight from Feb. 15, 1988-Jan. 3, 1989. That streak stretched across two seasons, including the 1987-88 season, which was their last national championship season.
“I won 20 in a row at Oklahoma State, so I told the guys ‘I’m not impressed by 13,'” head coach Russ Pennell said.
Pennell was referring to the 1991-92 Cowboys, who won 20 straight games to start the season. Pennell was an assistant coach under then-head coach Eddie Sutton.
Pennell has seen it all and been through it all. He says, when it comes to his team, he really doesn’t think about this streak or any other streak.
“To me, I try to win one-in-a-row every time,” Pennell said. “If you can do that, you’ll go undefeated, but it’s a little difficult.”
As I mentioned earlier, every team expects to win every game they play. To Pennell, winning all these games isn’t surprising to him, because he and his players already had a winning mentality before the season even started.
“When you make a schedule out, you’re trying to win every game,” Pennell said. “You don’t schedule to go ‘Well, I don’t think we’ll win that one, or I hope we can win half of these. I think as Herm Edwards said, ‘You play to win the game,’ I really believe that.
Winning game after game tends to become somewhat of an addiction for teams [in a good way of course], and it affects how they prepare for each and every opponent. Pennell sees how winning has changed how his players prepare for the opposition.
“I think the big thing is more of a resolve, they don’t want to lose,” Pennell said. “They’ve really payed attention to details, I’ve seen them spend more time after practice shooting the ball, watching more film.”
“When you’re in the middle of something special like this, you want to guard it, you want to ride this crest as long as you can,” Pennell said.
Point guard Josh Lowery transferred to Grand Canyon this season from Pepperdine to play alongside his younger brother Jeff.
Lowery says it’s been an “incredible experience” playing for the Lopes. He says it’s almost like night and day, the difference between playing for Grand Canyon and Pepperdine, where he was used to winning maybe 12 games a season, let alone 13 straight.
Lowery says the team has strengthened itself both offensively and defensively, and he thinks that’s one of the main reasons for the turnaround.
“We stayed with it, and we made some minor tweaks and players really just got comfortable and [we] built our chemistry together, and we’ve just been flowing,” Lowery said.
Forward/center Braylon Pickrel knows very well the pitfalls that come with a streak of this magnitude.
“It’s really easy to get caught up when you win one or two, that complacency and satisfaction really doesn’t set in,” Pickrel said. “When you get up to the seven, eight, nine and now we’re at 13, it’s very easy to get satisfied and easy to kind of get lazy and kind of slack off on your work ethic, but we really try to put a focus on getting better every day.”
Pickrel says after every game, the team goes back and watches film to see what they did right and what they did wrong, and how they can correct their mistakes and build on the positive aspects of their victories.
“It feels nice when you do it,” Pickrel said of the streak. “Whether your goal is to win 20, or to win all of them or [if] you’re a terrible team and you want to win five, when you win this many games in a row, no matter what it feels nice.”
The Lopes will be put through the ringer on Thursday night, as they head to St. George, Utah, to take on Dixie State.
The last time the Red Storm played at Burns Arena, they had seven players in double figures and beat Pacifica College by 70.
The Lopes fell to Dixie State last season on the road by a 73-56 count, so Pennell knows what kind of “storm” that he and his team are headed into on Thursday night.
“It’s one of the tougher places to play in our conference,” Pennell said. “It will be a game that you’re gonna have to play 40 minutes, you’re gonna have to play very smart, very hard. The thing you want to do in a game like that is be competitive and give yourself a chance at the end. If you can do that, that’s success.”