Miller time: Even though GCU women lost WAC title game, coach’s past success suggests future is bright

GCU senior Kennedi Shorts hangs her head after her team fell short to Stephen F. Austin in the finals of the WAC Tournament in Las Vegas. (Photo by Mary Grace Grabill/Cronkite News)

The Stephen F. Austin women’s basketball team celebrates after beating GCU and winning the WAC Tournament championship, earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament. (Photo by Mary Grace Grabill/Cronkite News)

Forward Aaliyah Johnson of Stephen F. Austin, left, tries to slow GCU guard Ja’Mya Powell-Smith as she drives to the basket. (Photo by Mary Grace Grabill/Cronkite News)

LAS VEGAS – In each of her two seasons at Grand Canyon University, women’s basketball coach Molly Miller has taken her team to the WAC Championship.

In eight seasons as a head coach, her teams have never suffered double-digit losses, and one, Drury in 2019-20, went 32-0.

It’s one of the many reasons GCU is excited about the future despite a 74-57 loss to Stephen F. Austin in the conference championship game Saturday at Orleans Arena. The Lopes’ 22 victories this season was a school record for wins at the Division I level.

“It was a tough one today for our kids,” Miller said. “When you’re playing the best team in the conference, you just hope you can eek one out somehow.”

The Lopes weren’t able to get anything going against the Ladyjacks defense, which held GCU to just 35 percent from the field and 20 percent from 3-point range, and forced 18 turnovers.

In a game where both teams turned the ball over (42 combined), it was the Ladyjacks’ shooting consistency that sent them dancing. SFA shot 53 percent, including 57 percent from deep.

SFA broke it open in the second quarter, outscoring the Lopes 22-8 to take a 14 point lead into the break.

The Lopes were able to get within three points early in the second half, but the Ladyjack offense went on another strong run to finish the third quarter to get it back to a 12-point game. GCU never got closer.

Before she came to GCU, Molly Miller was a two-time Division II Coach of the Year while at Drury. In her two seasons with the Lopes, she led GCU to the WAC title game both times. (Photo by Mary Grace Grabill/Cronkite News)

The Lopes’ season isn’t over yet, however, as they will receive a bid to play in the WNIT.

For Miller, being able to continue playing with this group, even if only for a few more games, is special, especially for the seniors.

“The seniors are kind of what kick-started this launch,” Miller said. “They kind of started this with me, so they’re always going to have a special place in my heart.”

While the seniors paved the way, the future remains bright in Phoenix, with multiple impact players returning next season, including Kiyley Flowers and Ja’Mya Powell-Smith.

“I expected us to win,” Powell-Smith said. “I came to fight, the whole team did, and that’s what we did.”

Powell-Smith scored 14 points and added five rebounds. Flowers recorded 10 points, seven rebounds. Each had five steals.

“I just want to go out and play basketball,” Flowers said. “I wanted to be the motor and the energy that the team needed.”

The Lopes’ attention now turns to the WNIT, what Miller calls “a new mission.” The 64-team field will be announced Sunday at 6 p.m. Arizona time.

“We have the opportunity to stay on the ride for a little bit longer,” Miller said. “We’re excited that we get the opportunity to showcase our product even longer.”

Dylan Wilhelm DIL-lun WIL-helm (he/him/his)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Dylan Wilhelm expects to graduate in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Wilhelm, who has worked for The State Press, is working for the Phoenix news bureau.

Mary Grace Grabill meh-ree grays grey-bull (she/her)
Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Mary Grace Grabill expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in film production. Grabill, who has interned as a photographer with Phoenix Magazine, is working for the Phoenix sports bureau.

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