Grand Canyon won the opener of the NCAA Division II West Region Championship, upending No. 3 seed UC San Diego, 68-57, Saturday in Bellingham, Wash.
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The Antelopes, the No. 6 seed in the tournament, are now 23-8 overall. The Tritons ended their season with a 22-11 record.
“This time of year, every coach wants their players to taste success,” head coach Trent May said. “On a personal note, I can’t tell you how special this is for our players because not every team is deserving, but this team is made up of great people. We have had some tough games down the stretch, games we felt like we could win, so I am so happy for them and to see that their hard work paid off today.”
“This team has always done a great job of preparing, practicing and being coachable, and sometimes it is just putting that all together to win games,” added May. “Our players stayed out of foul trouble and executed the game plan.”
“Their staff [UCSD] does a great job and their girls played great,” May said. “Daisy Federer, Emily Osga, and Erin Dautremont know how to battle and fight. It is amazing how many shots they hit contested, off-balance, and with the shot clock winding down. They are definitely gamers.”
Judy Jones collected her 19th double-double of the season with a game-high 24 points and 12 rebounds. Justine Johnson added a season-high 18 points and went six-for-six from the free-throw line in the last minute of the game. Chigozie Ekweozor and Maylinn Smith each chipped in with eight points.
“We had the momentum and kept it even if things weren’t going our way,” said Jones. “We just kept playing. You have to play like you are going to win the game, because if you start thinking about the things that you have done wrong, that will bring everybody else down.”
“You could tell from the beginning that it was going to be a fight,” said Johnson. “We finally all came together as a team and we had each other’s back on every play.”
The ‘Lopes shot 41.5 percent from the field (22-for-53), while the Tritons posted a 37.5 percent mark (21-for-56). GCU held the advantage in points in the paint (28-16), points off turnovers (16-11), and second chance points (11-8). The ‘Lopes also outrebounded the Tritons 41-30.
The game saw 11 ties and eight lead changes throughout.
GCU made three of their first four shots to take an early 7-4 lead in the game’s first four minutes. The Tritons took their first lead of the game, 14-12, with just more than 14 minutes to play in the half. The next two minutes went back and forth as the teams traded the lead until GCU once again went up by three points, 24-21, following a successful three-point conversion by Jones at the 7:43 mark.
GCU maintained control for the next six minutes and claimed their largest advantage at 37-33 with 19 seconds remaining in the half. In total, there were seven tied scores and four lead changes throughout the first half.
The ‘Lopes shot 48.1 percent (13-for-27) in the first 20 minutes while holding the Tritons to a 37.5 percent mark (12-for-32). Jones was the top-scorer on both sides with 13 points and Johnson added nine. GCU was also aided by 12 points in the paint as they outrebounded the Tritons, 20-14.
The Tritons knotted the score at 40 in the first five minutes of the second half and claimed a 42-40 lead with just under 14 minutes to play. Both teams went without a basket over the next four minutes until Jones tied the score at 44 with 8:48 on the clock.
GCU reclaimed the lead, 48-46, with 6:11 to play after scoring four unanswered points. Jones helped guide the ‘Lopes to a five-point advantage, 54-49, with three and a half minutes to play with four points of her own in a 20-second frame. Smith drained a three-pointer a minute later to make it 57-49 with two and a half minutes on the clock.
Two Smith free throws made it a 10-point game, 59-49, with just two minutes to play. UCSD would pull within six points, 60-54, with 1:20 remaining in the game, but that is the closest they would come as they were forced the foul. GCU made nine of 12 free throws down the stretch to maintain a comfortable lead for the remainder of the contest.
“I was proud of our girls for getting to the glass,” May said. “I am very proud of Justine for her fearless mentality [Saturday]. All of our guards did a great job making the right decision and she was catalyst for that from the get-go.”
“The difference [Saturday] was that even when we weren’t hitting shots, we stayed alive defensively,” May said. “We didn’t get too far in a hole and through that lack of scoring, the defense was still clicking. We were making stops and players were diving on the floor for loose balls.”