GCU women’s basketball upset in the WAC semifinals after Stephen F. Austin comeback in Las Vegas

GCU women’s basketball suffered a heartbreaking 66-63 loss to Stephen F. Austin in the WAC tournament semifinals, concluding a historic season short of the team’s goal. (Photo courtesy of David Kadlubowski/GCU)

LAS VEGAS – In a record-breaking season for the Grand Canyon University women’s basketball team, one team in conference play proved unsolvable in two previous matchups: Stephen F. Austin.

The Ladyjacks won in the Valley 59-54 in late January, and most recently held down home court in an 85-77 bout in Nacogdoches, Texas.

History reared its head yet again during the WAC women’s basketball tournament, as the No. 2 Lopes fell to the No. 3 Ladyjacks 66-63 at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

The Lopes (25-7; 16-4 WAC) came out of the gates hot, forcing six turnovers and limiting the Ladyjacks (22-11; 14-6 WAC) to three points in the first quarter. The offense was consistent as well, with WAC All-Defensive team selections Tiarra Brown and Trinity San Antonio leading the way with a combination of eight points, two assists and two steals in the quarter.

GCU’s advantage quickly faded away in the second quarter, with Stephen F. Austin scoring 25 points, compared to the slim eight points from GCU, leaving the Lopes trailing by three at halftime.

The second half was a physical battle. SFA senior Kurstyn Harden controlled the game late in the paint, with a total of 16 points, and drew crucial fouls late in the contest.

The first-team All-WAC center drained two critical free throws with six seconds left to extend the lead to three. The Lopes elected to try and push the paint for a layup and hopeful foul call, but San Antonio missed the layup and was not able to draw a foul, concluding GCU’s tournament run in excruciating fashion.

GCU coach Molly Miller clarified in the postgame press conference that the play was originally set for a corner three-point shot, “but things just didn’t work out.”

“We drew it up for a 3 and, just the opportunity didn’t present itself I guess for that pass,” Miller said. “We knew we needed a 3, it just didn’t materialize to get open.”

With the loss, the Lopes’ three losses to Stephen F. Austin this season were by a combined margin of 15 points, with both defeats during March resulting from comeback victories for the Ladyjacks.

Unable to claw back late in the game, GCU finished with one field goal made in the final 5:30 of the contest.

There was visible emotion for San Antonio and Brown, with the All-WAC First Team selection finishing her fourth year under Miller. Even though the end result was not GCU’s goal/hope, Miller and her players were proud of how they played during their winningest season in the program’s Division I history.

GCU’s 24 wins in the regular season marked its highest total since joining Division I in 2013, with its previous record of 22 achieved in the 2021-22 season.

Friday’s loss was a sad but familiar feeling for the Lopes, as it was their second consecutive semifinals loss and the fourth consecutive year they failed to win the WAC after making it to at least the semifinals.

Stephen F. Austin advanced to the WAC Championship game Saturday at 10:30 a.m., against top-seeded California Baptist (27-3; 18-2 WAC) for an automatic bid in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.

After the game, Miller reflected on the game and their season as a whole, saying that the ball just didn’t fall for them on the night. Still, she remained hopeful that they would be given a chance in the postseason to prove themselves one final time.

The Lopes’ postseason outlook is still foggy, as they await a potential place in either the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) or the Women’s Basketball Invitational (WBI) later this weekend.

Even though the Lopes failed to win the WAC tournament during their historic year, Miller hopes that they can build off of this year’s success as they continue battling for that elusive NCAA tournament berth.

“We’ve got to a place where we can finally win a championship,” Miller said.

“It wasn’t our night, but we’ve gotten to a place where we can use momentum, and the expectation is to get back here and win it all.”

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.