GCU men, women enter WAC Tournament on cusp of March Madness bids amid record-breaking seasons

With their eyes on the WAC tournament crown, Tyon Grant-Foster and his teammates seek to build on their stellar regular season performance and punch GCU’s ticket to the Big Dance. (Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS – Heading into the Western Athletic Conference men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, the Grand Canyon University Antelopes are in prime positions to clinch March Madness bids.

But as the name suggests, the conference tournaments begin a stretch of games that can only be explained with one word: chaos.

Losing in the semifinal or championship game for either Lopes’ squad would mean their chances of making the big dance shrink to near zero, which would be a disappointing end to what has been a successful season for both teams.

But if the Lopes can win in Las Vegas, it could kickstart a historical March Madness run.

Women’s preview:

The GCU women’s team (24-7; 16-4 WAC) has had a record-setting year, beating their previous Division I record before the conference tournament with 24 wins. And now the Lopes, with the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in a WAC tournament that begins Wednesday, are eyeing their first appearance in the NCAA Division I tournament in program history.

Senior forward Tiarra Brown and junior guard Trinity San Antonio have led the team, with Brown recently being named to the All-WAC first team and San Antonio named to the WAC All-Defensive team. Brown became the first player in GCU women’s basketball history to earn all three All-WAC awards in her career, as well as the first to be named to the first team twice in her career.

The Lopes are in the midst of the program’s best run in Div. I since they joined it in 2013. How they perform in Las Vegas will determine if they keep dancing a little longer.

GCU finished No. 2 in the WAC, earning a spot in the semifinals that start on Friday morning. They await the winner of No. 3 Stephen F. Austin (20-11; 14-6 WAC) against either No. 6 Abilene Christian (14-15; 10-10 WAC) and No. 7 Tarleton State (10-19; 7-13 WAC), who hit the floor Wednesday afternoon.

The Lopes fell to the Ladyjacks of Stephen F. Austin in both contests during the regular season by a combined margin of 13 points. If Stephen F. Austin loses to either Abilene Christian or Tarleton State, the Lopes’ odds would improve as they swept both teams during the regular season.

In the event GCU makes the championship, the Lopes will be one win away from their first NCAA Division I tournament berth.

The championship game, slated for 10:30 a.m. Saturday, could lead to a rematch from the Lopes’ final regular season game against No. 1 California Baptist (26-3; 18-2 WAC), which stole an 85-81 win from GCU in Phoenix on March 9.

The Lancers also captured a close one when GCU visited California Baptist a few weeks earlier, winning 71-65. San Antonio may play a critical role in GCU’s chances, after playing her previous two years at California Baptist before transferring to GCU last summer.

The Lopes women’s team has one of its best chances in program history to make the big dance for the first time, with the possibility that one of their star players will get redemption against her former team the third time around.

Men’s preview:

The GCU men were back in peak form this season after winning the WAC and playing in the NCAA Division I tournament last year.

Paced by recently-named WAC Player of the Year Tyon Grant-Foster, the Lopes finished the regular season with a 27-4 record and the best regular season winning percentage in school history. With the top seed and a first-round WAC tournament bye, they can break the record for most wins in a season with a victory in Friday’s semifinal.

Forward Gabe McGlothan was named to the WAC All-Conference first team alongside Grant-Foster. The squad full of veterans shined on defense with guard Collin Moore also being named on the WAC All-Defensive team.

If the Lopes win the WAC tournament, it would be their second consecutive year in March Madness and their third overall appearance since joining Division I in 2013.

Like the women, the men will not play until the third day of the tournament Friday, as they clinched the No. 1 overall seed for the tournament after finishing conference play with a 16-3 record.

Their semifinal opponent will be the winner of No. 4 Seattle University (18-13; 11-9 WAC) against either No. 8 California Baptist (15-16; 8-12 WAC) or No. 5 Utah Valley (16-15; 11-9 WAC), who kick off the men’s tournament Wednesday.

The Lopes swept California Baptist and Utah Valley during the regular season, but split the two-game series with Seattle after losing on the road, 86-79.

If GCU can win Friday evening, the Lopes will await the winner from the other side of the bracket, with No. 2 Tarleton State (23-8; 16-4 WAC) and No. 3 UT Arlington (18-13; 13-7 WAC) leading the all-Texas half.

The winner between No. 6 Stephen F. Austin (17-14; 10-10 WAC) and No. 7 Abilene Christian (15-16; 10-10 WAC) will take on the Mavericks from Arlington, Texas, Thursday at 8:30 p.m.

The Texans of Tarleton State challenged the Lopes for first place in the conference all season long, finishing one game back of GCU at 16-4 in the conference (23-8 overall). Tarleton State won the previous meeting between the conference leaders, defeating the Lopes 77-74 in Stephenville, Texas.

With a team that is full of veterans and previous NCAA tournament experience, this season may be the program’s best chance yet to taste success in March Madness.

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Jesse Brawders expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in educational studies. Brawders is a freelance esports commentator.