The Lopes are ready for the second season.
The Grand Canyon men’s basketball team finished up a great regular season with 23 wins, the most since 1996-97, and that success has earned them a No. 2 seed in the inaugural PacWest Tournament, which kicks off on Thursday night.
The men and women’s teams are both No. 2 seeds as a matter of fact. Both teams will have a bye on Thursday and will play on Friday.
The ladies will face either BYU-Hawai’i or Academy of Art, while the men will take on either Chaminade or Hawai’i Pacific.
For the most part, head coach Russ Pennell was pleased with the way the regular season went for the men.
“We accomplished great things and took a big step forward with the program,” Pennell said. “We’re just hoping we can put together a good run here in the next couple weeks.”
The men will return to Azusa, Calif., which is the scene of their final regular season loss – a 78-71 OT loss – last Saturday night to Azusa Pacific.
Grand Canyon shot 35.2-percent in the game and missed 13 free throws – two things they can’t duplicate on Friday night if they expect to win the tournament.
“That’s not been common of our team, most of the time we’ve been pretty consistent with that,” Pennell said when talking about all the free throw misses. “There’s still little things that we can improve upon, and that’s what we’re trying to do this week and hopefully we don’t make those same mistakes when the stakes get higher.”
The little things – like boxing out on free throws and not fouling three point shooters – will be crucial as well when we’re talking about the Lopes becoming PacWest Champions.
“Those things can erode as the season goes on,” Pennell said. “It’s not that the kids don’t know them, it’s just that you have to remind them.”
Pennell says he and his coaching staff won’t “gloss” over those things, because they can manifest into something much worse if they don’t handle it.
Point guard Josh Lowery is confident that his coaches will have them prepared for whomever their opponent is on Friday night.
“We just gotta put in the extra work [and] the coaches will take care of us,” Lowery said. “They really work on us, [they] work on our shot, our form, stuff like that on a consistent basis.”
“A lot of it is just mental and preparation, we just gotta put in the extra reps and we’ll see it carry over into the game [if] we play with confidence,” Lowery said.
The Lopes defeated both Chaminade and Hawai’i Pacific this season at GCU Arena.
In order to defeat whomever it will be on Friday, Lowery says the team needs to work on consistency, both offensively and defensively.
“When we figure out who we’re playing, basically just scout it out,” Lowery said.
Chaminade and Hawai’i Pacific couldn’t be more polar opposites when it comes to how they play basketball. The Sea Warriors will bang the ball down low, while the Silverswords like to run a guard-oriented offense.
As far as Chaminade goes, Pennell says if it’s them, then forward Braylon Pickrel will have some work to do in order to deal with their guards. On the flip side of that, Pennell thinks they will have a shot to be more physical down low.
“Whoever wins, we have to be prepared for them,” Pennell said. “I don’t really have a preference, but they both kind of give us different problems, regardless of it’s a team that’s big or a team that’s a little bit quicker and more athletic.”
Should the Lopes win on Friday night, they’ll play in the championship game on Saturday night. The game will tip at 8:30 Arizona time.