Oscar Frayer went high for the opening tip in yesterday”s basketball game between Grand Canyon University and Nevada, but the ball ended up in the hands of one of the Wolf Pack players. It was the first time in the last eight tries that the 6’7″ human pogo stick has failed to win the tip for GCU.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise, however; Nevada hasn’t lost an opening jump this season.
As it turned out, that lost tip was not a good omen for the ‘Lopes.
GCU opened the game with an 11-0 run and trailed by a single basket at the half. But No. 6 Nevada took advantage of nearly every offensive possession in the final minutes of the game to escape with a 74-66 victory yesterday afternoon at Talking Stick Resort Arena. It was the second game of a double-header that ushered in the inaugural Jerry Colangelo Classic.
The fans who turned out to help christen the event got their money’s worth. The Classic, telecast on ESPNU and co-branded with the Air Force Reserve, featured three top-seven teams in the country, with No. 7 Tennessee pulling off a stunning 76-73 upset of No. 1 Gonzaga in the opening contest. The double-header drew a crowd of 10,172.
And GCU revived that frenzy of energy from the conclusion of the big upset to open its game, keeping the downtown Phoenix arena, home to the Phoenix Suns, rocking for another 90 minutes .
The small Christian school in west Phoenix brought its now-famous student cheering section, aptly named The Havocs, and filled seven sections of the arena with more than 2,000 wildly enthusiastic – and loud – supporters. Nevada coach Eric Musselman admitted after the game that “playing in front of a student section like this is not easy.” The Havocs had started showing up at the arena gates at 7 a.m. for the 3:30 p.m. contest.
But the Havocs weren’t able to help much when Nevada began its push-back. Musselman called a time-out just five minutes into the game and regrouped his players, also giving him time to make some adjustments to the unexpected zone defense that head coach Dan Majerle had set in place to start the game.
That was about the same time the GCU shooting took a sabbatical. The ‘Lopes held a commanding 14-2 lead before a string of nine consecutive missed shots allowed the Pack to get back into the game and take over the lead.
GCU had closed the gap to just two points going into the locker room. As the second half started, Alessandro Lever wasted no time posting up on the low block, using his 6’10” size to back down his opponent to create some space for his shot, and then banked the ball off the left side of the board into the waiting net.
That tied the score at 34-34. New ball game.
Most of the remainder of the game, no more than seven points separated the two teams. Twice, at the nine-minute mark and again with just under three minutes to play, the Antelopes whittled the Nevada lead to a single point.
But in the final 90 seconds, the Wolf Pack made a run that would make their lead insurmountable in the little time left on the clock. The result was a win that kept Nevada among the nation’s undefeated and a missed chance for GCU to finally knock off a top-25 opponent. The ‘Lopes have had six tries since beginning Division I play in 2013 (the first four years in a transition period), but haven’t been able to get over that hump that’s beginning to look more like a small mountain to Majerle.
“To be honest,” Majerle told the media after the game, “I’m tired of saying our team plays well and then we lose.”
The former Phoenix Suns player and assistant coach gave credit to his players for their effort yesterday and took some comfort in the way they played against one of the better teams in the country. For some perspective on that, it’s interesting to note that No. 20 Arizona State took its shot at Nevada on Friday night. The Sun Devils also lost, and by an almost identical score, 72-66.
It was the Lopes’ inability to hit the big shots down the stretch that made the difference in what could have been a signature win for the program. “The difference in that game – it was right there – was they came down and hit big shots, got to the free throw line, and got fouled. We came down and didn’t make shots, and that’s what basketball is: taking care of opportunities and making big shots.”
Nevada went to the line 29 times and made 24 points off those trips, a success rate of 83 percent.
“I’m disappointed that we lost,” said Majerle in the post-game presser. “I understand, that’s a really, really good team. Overall, I’m proud of our guys – and that’s something we can build on.”
GCU is now 5-4, playing what is probably the most challenging non-conference schedule in the Majerle era.
And it doesn’t get any easier. Next Saturday the ‘Lopes travel to Austin to take on the Texas Longhorns (6-3), who just knocked off No. 24 Purdue.
(Photo: GCU Athletics)