Jason Spurgin and the T-Birds take on rival Utah Valley in Semifinal Friday. Courtesy Western Athletic Conference.

Bearkats-Lopes, Wolverines-T-Birds; Who’s Going to Play for a Title?

Bearkats vs. Lopes. Wolverines vs. T-Birds.

Friday has the opportunity to be epic at Orleans Arena. Especially with a trip to the title game on the line. One team is looking to go to its first-ever NCAA Tournament. Two others haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament in a long time. 13 years for Sam Houston and it’s been 22 years since Southern Utah has been back in The Dance. GCU went to its first-ever NCAA Tournament in 2021. Utah Valley has never made the tournament in its Division I era.

Considering how wild WAC Vegas has been through four days, it is about to get even more epic on day 5.

1 – Sam Houston vs. 5 – Grand Canyon, 6 p.m. PT ESPN+

Is it ironic that to get to the title game, the Bearkats have to go the same route they did in 2022? Sam Houston beat CBU by 30 in their first WAC Tourney game in 2022. Then, the Bearkats took GCU to the wire before the Lopes escaped with a 71-66 win.

In 2023, the Bearkats have to go the same route, again. Sam Houston beat CBU on Thursday. Now, the Bearkats face the Lopes on Friday for a chance to go to the title game.

GCU won the lone meeting between the two teams back on Jan. 5 in overtime. It was a big Quad 1 win for the Lopes. However, it came at a price. In that ball game, Jovan Blacksher Jr.’s season came to an end with a torn ACL.

Qua Grant and Sam Houston take on GCU on Friday for a chance to play in Saturday’s title game. Courtesy Western Athletic Conference.

It changed the season for the Lopes who struggled to an 11-7 record in WAC play. However, Ray Harrison has been dynamite all season. Gabe McGlothan is playing better. Well, that’s a big of an understatement. McGlothan is coming into Friday fresh off a 35-point, 10-rebound performance in a win over Seattle U on Thursday afternoon. Can McGlothan do it again on Friday?

Sam Houston held CBU scoreless for over 10 minutes in the first half on Thursday. However, the Bearkats struggled in the second half with some scoring droughts. Donte Powers was electric. However, the other Bearkats struggled a bit offensively. Jason Hooten’s squad will have to find some scoring if they are to survive and advance.

GCU has won three straight. Sam Houston has won eight straight. Something has to give on Friday at the Orleans Arena. How will Sam Houston handle basically a home game for GCU? Keep an eye on that.

2 – Utah Valley vs. 3 – Southern Utah, 8 p.m. PT ESPN+

How about a rivalry game for the second night in a row at Orleans Arena? Fans got to see what a rivalry game is like on Thursday night. So, how about an encore? The Wolverines and T-Birds split the season series with each team winning on their home floor.

Now, the rubber match.

Utah Valley comes in after a solid win against a good Tarleton squad. Justin Harmon and Trey Woodbury combined for 44 points on Thursday. This dynamic duo may need to do it all again on Friday. Southern Utah is fresh off a thrilling 76-75 win over rival Utah Tech. The T-Birds had six players in double figures led by Jason Spurgin’s 18.

Slugfest, boxing match, street fight.

Can Aziz Bandaogo lead Utah Valley to its first-ever WAC title game appearance? Courtesy Western Athletic Conference.

Call it whatever you want. SUU has a team loaded with seniors and 1,000-point scorers. Mark Madsen has arguably the best Utah Valley team in program history. We have First Team All-WAC selections. Defensive Player of the Year.

Two schools separated by about 250 miles. Green vs. Red. It couldn’t get any better than this, right?

Foul trouble is something to keep an eye on. Especially in the paint. Aziz Bandaogo vs. Jason Spurgin. Whichever big man gets in foul trouble early could prove to be the tipping point.

About the author

Kyle McDonald

Love everything about WAC Hoops so decided I wanted to write more about it and cover this amazing conference that just keeps getting better. Follow us on Twitter @wachoopsdigest for information, game analysis and much more.

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