GCU adapting to deeper conference, new style of basketball

Feb 27, 2022, 12:00 PM | Updated: 1:06 pm

Head coach Bryce Drew of the Grand Canyon Lopes cuts down the net after defeating the New Mexico St...

Head coach Bryce Drew of the Grand Canyon Lopes cuts down the net after defeating the New Mexico State Aggies following the championship game of the Western Athletic Conference basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena on March 13, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Lopes defeated the Aggies 74-56. (Photo by Joe Buglewicz/Getty Images)

(Photo by Joe Buglewicz/Getty Images)

Grand Canyon University was one of three Western Athletic Conference teams with winning percentages above 60% last year.

The WAC then added five schools ahead of the 2021-22 season: Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston, Lamar, Abilene Christian and Southern Utah.

Six teams have winning percentages above 60% ahead of the conference tournament on March 8, including GCU at 20-7.

GCU won the WAC Tournament last year under head coach Bryce Drew to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time. Drew acknowledged the challenges to repeat this season.

“I credit our conference, the presidents that were aggressive in adding schools because we basically took two leagues and put them together into one,” Drew told 98.7 FM Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta during Newsmakers Week. “Two bids might go down to only one this year. And so it is a very, very good mid-major conference.”

GCU is in fifth place in the WAC at 10-5 with two regular season games remaining.

The Antelopes have had to adjust to a different brand of basketball this season. GCU lost four starters from last year and has a much more guard-heavy look.

Last season, the top two scorers were front court players, while guards Jovan Blacksher Jr. and Holland Woods lead the way this year. The team shoots a lot more three pointers as a result.

“As coaches, you’ve got to adapt,” Drew said. “Last year our best scorers were our posts. This year, our best scorers are perimeter players. We’ve been successful when we’ve had a third scoring option step up, and usually that’s a frontline player, so that’s something to look for when you watch our team.”

The Antelopes have won six of eight games after defeating Sam Houston 67-41 on Saturday. Drew stressed that making the NCAA Tournament is a big deal for the growth of the program.

“People want to play in the NCAA Tournament, they want to play on TV and getting to the tournament gets you TV time, which is really helpful,” Drew said. “Being the first time, it caught a lot of attention across the country. Obviously that’s the goal … because those are things that can really propel your program.”

The Antelopes have two more home games on the schedule starting with Utah Valley on Thursday and Dixie State next Saturday.

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