Local prep stars lead GCU basketball to 13 straight wins

The Antelopes are running hard and right at the front of the herd are several local prep stars from days gone by.

Grand Canyon University‘s men’s basketball team beat Point Loma over the weekend and, in doing so, added a 13th straight win to this season’s 14-2 overall record.  You have to go back more than 20 years into the school archives to find the last winning streak that long.

Braylon Pickrel led the ‘Lopes scorers Saturday with 17 points, while Steve Morin added 14 and Joshua Lowery finished with 12.  All three are seniors, and all three hail from the Phoenix Valley.

Pickrel is a 6’10 post from Red Mountain High School in Mesa; Morin is a guard from Saguaro High School in Scottsdale; and Lowery, also playing in the back court, graduated from Desert Vista High School in Phoenix, but attended Pepperdine before donning the GCU colors.

Pickrel and Lowery were also instrumental in keeping the streak alive in an overtime thriller against California Baptist last week, with each contributing 14 points.  And yet another local product, Brad Carroll, stepped up in that game with 10 points.  Carroll is a 6’6″ junior guard from Corona del Sol High School in Tempe.

High scoring honors in that game went to Killian Larson, an import from California, who dropped in 22 points.  But the 6’9″ center struggled against Point Loma, going 0-for-3 on the night, and the locals stepped in to fill the scoring void.

Morin and Pickrel accounted for 21 of the team’s first 24 points as the ‘Lopes built an early lead and then held it into halftime.  They shot 50 per cent from the field in the first half and connected on four of their first five 3-point attempts.

The Sea Lions recovered from a 22-point deficit to pull to within nine points late in the game, but GCU held on for the 63-51 victory and became a notation in the school archives.  Their new winning streak marks the longest single-season stretch since a 13-game win streak during the 1987-88 season.

The 14-2 mark is the best start since the 1996-97 season when that squad jumped out to a 15-2 record.

This shouldn’t come as a complete surprise, however.  This year’s team was projected in the pre-season to finish atop the Pacific West Conference.  Pickrel is also unable to sneak up on anybody this year after being named the PacWest Pre-season Player of the Year.

The GCU men finished last season with a 19-8 overall record and made their first trip in five years back to the Division II NCAA Tournament, where they lost by six points in the first round to No. 1 seed Western Washington.

Head coach Russ Pennell loaded the non-conference schedule with some good competition to help prepare his squad for conference play, and it seems to be paying off as the ‘Lopes have begun their PacWest schedule with five straight wins.

“Our goal is to make it back to the NCAA Tournament and to advance,” said Pennell earlier in the season, “and the only way you can do that is by playing good competition early on.”

Pennell is in his fourth year at the helm of the GCU program, hired in 2009 after he guided the University of Arizona program to a Sweet Sixteen appearance as the interim coach after Lute Olson stepped down.

After that kind of heady March Madness experience, his isn’t likely to be willing to settle for a first-round exit again this year, should this team get another invitation to the Big Dance.

And that seems to be almost a lock at this point – especially if they finish out the way they did last year.  They wrapped the regular season by winning their last nine games.

(Photo: GCU Athletics)