The stage is set tonight for a grand finale at Antelope Gym, as the Grand Canyon University basketball teams say goodbye to an old friend.
This will be the last game the men’s and women’s teams will play in the gymnasium, first opened on the Phoenix campus in time for the 1994-95 season. Next year, it will be replaced by a shiny new complex called the Grand Canyon University Arena.
The new 5,000-seat facility, which is the centerpiece of the school’s $60 million expansion plan, broke ground in June. With 135,000 square feet under roof, it is one of four buildings included in the next stage of growth and will host not only basketball games, but also other mid-size sporting events, musical performances, and conferences.
Antelope Gym’s final night of basketball couldn’t have provided a better showcase, even if the administration had planned it.
The women’s team, which is ranked No. 10 in the nation, has a chance to close out the first-ever unbeaten home season in the history of the school by defeating visiting Notre Dame de Namur.
They can also tie the school record for most wins in a single season tonight. Their current record is 22-2, right behind the 2006-07 team that set the record at 23-4.
Meanwhile, the men’s squad is just 1 1/2 games out of first place in the Pacific West Conference, working toward earning an automatic berth into the NCCA West Regional by winning the conference.
A home win against Notre Dame de Namur would be critical, since the men have to finish out their regular season with a four-game road trip that will include games against the two top teams in the PacWest.
And, when it comes to putting on a show for those who will be in the stands as the final curtain descends at Antelope Gym, there is the opportunity to watch the nation’s leading scorer in women’s Division II – and also the school’s all-time No. 1 and No. 2 career scoring leaders.
Samantha Murphy, a senior point guard from Xavier Prep in Phoenix, leads the nation in scoring (25 ppg) and is No. 1 on the school’s all-time list. Backcourt partner, senior Rosalyn Nelson from Deer Valley High School in Glendale, is No. 2 on the prestigious list.
Tonight’s stage could also be set for yet another Murphy milestone, as she needs just 34 more to reach the 2,000-point career plateau. Nelson is just 13 points shy of 1,500.
Murphy and Nelson were honored Saturday at Senior Day, which also happened to be Homecoming, and Murphy responded appropriately by netting a game-high 25 points. The game before that, she set a GCU single-season record by reaching 580.
In addition to senior honors for Murphy and Nelson, the ‘Lopes saluted Katie Johnson and Kristi Girdley on the women’s team, and just two seniors on the men’s side, Rony Tchatchoua and Gby Ngoundjo.
Johnson is another local product, who attended Deer Valley HS and then went on to play at South Mountain Community College before transferring in to GCU.
GCU’s women’s coach, Trent May, will no doubt be anxious to get to that first game in the school’s new facility. But there’s a huge downsize to that first game.
He’ll no longer have either of the school’s leading scorers on the floor.
(Photo: GCU Athletics)