Grand Canyon University women’s basketball coach Molly Miller has one of the country’s toughest defenses to play against by any measure. But, Miller also has one of the best players in the WAC in Amara Graham. And on Thursday night at GCU Arena, Graham showed why.
Graham hit five 3-pointers and had a game-high 25 points to lead the Lopes to a season sweep of the defending WAC champions.
In three conference losses, it’s been the Lopes offense which struggled…producing point totals of 50, 43, and 50 in losses to UTRGV, Stephen F. Austin, and Utah Valley.
Thursday night, with the second seed and an automatic bye to next month’s tournament semifinal at stake, the Lopes produced one of the finest offensive performances in Miller’s tenure en route to a 75-55 win at GCU Arena. GCU is one game up on CBU for the No. 2 seed with two weeks left.
Graham started the game off with back-to-back threes. And Graham’s put back made it 8-1 Lopes with 7:33 left in the first quarter. Jay McChristine‘s jumper at the buzzer put GCU up 25-8 after ten minutes. Graham was a perfect 5-5 from the field and hit four 3-pointers as the Lopes outshot CBU 47 percent to 20 percent.
“We knew how important this game was and had to come out and hit them before they hit us,” Graham said. “All week we were locked in, executed, and it worked out in our favor. Even though our goal of a regular season title is gone, there’s still a lot to play for in that race to the 2-seed and a bye all the way to the semis. We’ve admittedly struggled offensively this year. But, our defense has kept us in games until the offense clicked and shots started falling. Tonight, it was my turn but it’s been a bunch of different people.”
McChristine had back-to-back baskets, putting GCU up 31-13 with 6:29 to half. Then a 3-pointer from Ane Olaeta cut the Lancer deficit to 16 points with just under 90 seconds remaining in the half. However, the Lancers got no closer trailing 39-23 at intermission.
Another 3-pointer from Graham made it 51-30 with 1:31 in the third. CBU tried to get back in the game. But the Lancers struggled from the free throw line. CBU was 4-14 with an opportunity to make up some ground on the Lopes.
The lead reached 27 on a Dominique Phillips jumper with 7:40 left. CBU then put together a 13-2 run to pull within 16 with 5:26 remaining on Georgia Dale’s layup in transition. With 3:43 left, a Graham mid-range jumper restored the 20-point lead at 68-48 and the Lopes were never threatened again.
“From the get go, I could tell that the kids had an extra pep in their step tonight,” GCU head coach Molly Miller said. “So I knew they were ready for this big game. And they stepped up which makes me really proud as a coach. It was so nice to see those first few shots from Amara go down. It opens things up for everyone else and gives us a bit of freedom offensively. We just need to continue working on the consistency of everything on that end of the floor so the days of single digit scoring quarters and 8% shooting halves are out of our systems.”
Graham led the way with 25 points and hit five 3-pointers. Phillips had 12 points and 11 rebounds. Jay McChristine added 14 points and 6 rebounds. GCU shot 44 percent from the floor and 55 percent from distance.
For CBU, Ane Olaeta had 12 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 steals. And the Lancers were held to just 29 percent shooting and 19 percent from deep.
GCU (17-7,10-3): 25-14-14-22=75
CBU (18-6,9-4): 08-15-09-23=55