Survive and advance: GCU outlasts Seattle, books WAC Championship spot against UT Arlington

GCU’s Tyon Grant-Foster celebrates defeating the Seattle Redhawks 80-72 in the WAC tournament semifinal. (Photo by Candice Ward/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS – After last year’s NCAA Tournament exit, GCU turned this season into one to remember as it finished the regular season with the best win percentage in Division I program history, while tying its record for most wins in a season.

The No. 1 Antelopes officially broke that record in an 80-72 victory over No. 4 Seattle University Friday in Las Vegas.

The Lopes fed off the Orleans Arena crowd, which was packed by the GCU faithful and amounted to roughly 90% of the fans there.

The game went back and forth in the first half, with neither team able to build a sustainable lead. But once the second half began, GCU grabbed the lead early and never allowed the Redhawks to catch up.

In their previous two games against the Redhawks this season, the Lopes were led by senior forward Gabe McGlothan, who paced the Lopes with 28 and 25 points, respectively. McGlothan was silenced Friday, shooting 1-for-9 and 0-for-3 from three-point range.

The Lopes didn’t have to look far for another answer on offense, however, as their leading scorer Tyon Grant-Foster led his team to the championship through a complete performance. The senior transfer was a monster on each end of the floor, totaling 28 points, six rebounds, three blocks and two steals.

Grant-Foster was supported by guard Ray Harrison, who made all eight free throws during his 17-point, four-assist evening.

GCU coach Bryce Drew applauded his players for stepping up in the second half despite a slow first half after not playing all week.

“Really proud of our team effort, long week here waiting to play,” Drew said. “In the first half we were down two, but we still thought we were in a good place cause we hadn’t played in a week, and I thought we had some good shots that we didn’t make in that first half.”

GCU’s Collin Moore places the team sticker on the ceremonial tournament bracket after defeating the Seattle Redhawks 80-72 in the WAC tournament semifinal. (Photo by Candice Ward/Getty Images)

Grant-Foster and Harrison complimented each other and their teammates, including McGlothan, amid their standout performances.

“I feel like that’s what makes us different this whole year, just being able to have so many different weapons that on any given night, you have to respect (us),” Grant-Foster said.

Harris added that “they’re like our engine, so they don’t have to play super good to keep us playing good. It’s amazing just to have him because without him we’d be totally different.”

The win solidified the Lopes’ fifth conference championship appearance in the last six years (2018, 2019, 2021, 2023, 2024), and improved their all-time record in the WAC tournament 12-3. The program improved to 5-1 in semifinal games, with its only loss coming in 2022 in a 75-70 loss to New Mexico State, who is now a part of Conference USA.

The Lopes are 2-2 in the WAC Championship, winning their last two appearances over New Mexico State (2021) and Southern Utah (2023).

If Grand Canyon wins Saturday, a conference title would be its second-consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament and third in program history, with both previous NCAA-bound teams coached by Drew.

GCU hopes to build upon their success during the regular season and Friday through the WAC Championship, as they will take on No. 3 UT Arlington Saturday at 8:30 p.m.

Drew wasn’t worried about the specifics of the championship game Friday night, focusing more on resting his team before the game Saturday night.

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.