Instead, GCU paid for not packing its defense on the trip, giving up more than 90 points in losses at Seattle on Thursday night and at Utah Valley on Saturday night. The Wolverines continued their improved play of late, taking advantage of the foul-prone Lopes and shooting 67% from the field in the second half of a 92-80 win at UCCU Center.
Like Thursday, GCU turned it on offensively in the second half but the Lopes could not make as much headway with Utah Valley thriving on driving and transition scores. The Wolverines scored 40 in the paint and added 27 free throw points as GCU junior swingman Carlos Johnson fouled out for a second consecutive game and senior power forward Lorenzo Jenkins fouled out in 18 minutes after his second consecutive scoreless game.
GCU, the former WAC leader for least fouls, allowed more free throw points in each of this week’s two losses than in any game this season.
Johnson and Lever made 11 of 15 shots in the first half while their teammates were 2 for 16 from the field. Junior reserve guard Isiah Brown was saddled with three first-half fouls but bounced back for a 13-point second half after scoring 14 on Thursday.
“We’re scoring enough points to win,” GCU head coach Dan Majerle said. “We’re having a hard time guarding quick guards. We can’t keep anybody in front. All of a sudden, we used to be a team that doesn’t foul and now we foul every time somebody goes to the hole. And not only do we foul, we give up and-ones. I don’t understand it. It just comes down to having some pride and guarding your guy.”
The road losses surrendered GCU’s hold on the WAC Tournament No. 2 seed position but the Lopes (12-15, 7-6 WAC) can regain it over the final three regular-season games at GCU Arena, starting with conference leader New Mexico State’s visit on Thursday night.
“We have to find a way to bounce back and win those three,” Majerle said.
The Lopes’ issues were exacerbated by freshman point guard Jovan Blacksher Jr. sustaining a hamstring injury in the first half when he went the length of the court for an assist on a buzzer-beating Mikey Dixon layup that cut Utah Valley’s lead to 38-31. Blacksher tried to continue in the second half but was pulled for precautionary reasons for the final 10 minutes.
The Dixon-Blacksher starting backcourt went 4 for 19 from the field on Saturday while their counterparts starred. Utah Valley senior point guard T.J. Washington delivered 13 assists with only two turnovers while his backcourt mate, sophomore Brandon Averette, scored 23 points in 27 minutes.
GCU started strongly with a 15-11 lead after the first 7:10 of play with all of the points coming from Johnson and Lever. Utah Valley (11-17, 5-8 WAC) then went on a 16-2 run as GCU missed seven of its next eight shots and made three turnovers.
The Wolverines scored eight unanswered points early in the second half with Lopes fouls feeding the run. That gave Utah Valley a 49-34 lead and the Lopes never pulled to within single digits again despite shooting 61% from the field in the second half.
GCU freshman power forward Bryce Okpoh, who scored nine second-half points to set his season high, made a jump shot to cut the lead to 74-64 with 5:45 remaining but Averette answered with a 3-pointer and Johnson fouled out two minutes later. Okpoh came off the bench Saturday with sophomore Raef Gerdes receiving his first career start.
“We can still be in a good position but if we don’t rededicate ourselves to guarding people, we’re not going to beat anybody,” Majerle said. “We kept on battling but you’ve got to be able to stop somebody.”
Article by Paul Coro