Despite all the pauses and COVID chaos, this weekend in Edinburg, a battle of undefeated teams in WAC play takes place. Grand Canyon takes its talents and 8-game winning streak to South Texas to face UTRGV with first place implications on the line.
UTRGV is coming off a pause due to COVID-19. The last time the Vaqueros took the floor was in a 72-65 win over Dixie State on Jan. 16.
“It was ugly,” UTRGV head coach Lew Hill said about the stoppage. “You never want to stop anything that’s going good. We were playing good. We were feeling good. We’re healthy. Then the stoppage came. But, that’s out of our control and that’s been happening all across the world. And we’re not exempt from that.”
Prior to the stoppage, UTRGV had won three straight games and swept its only conference series to date. The Vaqueros had just gotten point guard Javon Levi and big man Jeff Otchere back, as well. But, despite the stoppage, Hill says the Vaqueros are ready to get back to work and get back on the floor.
It’s just good to get on the court,” Hill said. “It’s not necessarily who we are playing. It just feels good to just get back on the court and do what we are here to do and that’s play basketball.”
At 8-3 overall and 2-0 in WAC play, UTRGV has continued its winning ways under Hill. The Vaqueros are also 7-1 at home. This includes a 62-59 win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at Bert Ogden Arena where the Vaqueros host the Lopes this weekend.
UTRGV is lead by Sean Rhea who averages a team-high 15.3 points per game. Rhea is also pulling down 6.2 boards per game. It is unclear whether or not Quinton Johnson II will play as he has missed the last three games for the Vaqueros.
And now, the Vaqueros welcome perhaps the hottest team in the country to Edinburg in GCU.
“Very physical team” Hill said. “Very well-coached. You know, got two bigs playing that play a lot of high-low, really good point guard. Just overall, really, really good team. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
GCU is 12-3 overall and 6-0 in WAC play. The Lopes are coming off a series sweep against New Mexico State this past weekend.
“Lew’s done a sensational job since he’s taken over,” GCU head coach Bryce Drew said. “Finishing second in conference last year. Again, this year they’re really impressive on film. They play really fast. What I love about them is they play with such high intensity on both ends of the court. And they don’t take any plays off.”
The Lopes are led by a pair of big men in Asbjørn Midtgaard and Alessandro Lever. Midtgaard averages a team-high 14.8 points as well as 9.7 rebounds per game while shooting 74 percent from the field. Lever is his same old self, averaging 12.9 points and 4.8 rebounds while shooting 42 percent from 3-point land.
In the battle of undefeated teams in the WAC, some records might fall this weekend in Edinburg. UTRGV guard Javon Levi needs just 10 steals to to become the all-time leader in program history in career steals. Levi currently has 222 steals during his time in Edinburg. Lalo Rios is the record-holder at 231. Levi is currently ninth in WAC history in steals, 77 behind Eric Coley who played at Tulsa from 1997-2000.
On the flip side, GCU senior forward Oscar Frayer may set the GCU all-time record for steals in a career. Frayer needs just six steals to pass DeWayne Russell who had 119 steals during his career at GCU.
Game Note: It is entirely possible that we will see the career steals records broken for both @UTRGV_MBB & @GCU_MBB this weekend. Javon Levi is at 222 (Lalo Rios, 231) & Oscar Frayer is at 114 (DeWayne Russell, 119) ?
— Jonah Goldberg (@JonahUTRGV) February 4, 2021
Jovan vs. Javon
Point guard battles are always fun to watch. And in Edinburg this weekend, two of the best will take center stage at Bert Ogden Arena in a battle of undefeated teams.
Javon Levi is in the top-10 in the WAC in career steals and 11th in career assists. Levi is the floor general for Lew Hill. Currently, in only six games played in 2020-21, Levi is averaging 5.7 assists and 3.0 steals per game to go along with 10.8 points per game.
Jovan Blacksher Jr. is just a sophomore but has been impressive since stepping on GCU’s campus prior to the 2019-20 season. Blacksher Jr. averages 11.3 points, 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game. The sophomore point guard also has 17 steals on the season.
“They’ve played against each other last year a couple of times so they have more experience than what I know of them going against each other,” Drew said. “But Jovan Blacksher is a competitor as is Levi. So, I’m sure they’re both excited to go at each other for 80 minutes this weekend.”
Last season, Blacksher Jr. had 13 points, six rebounds and six assists to help GCU win in Edinburg. Levi had 15 points and 13 assists in the loss. In the second game, and first-ever win for UTRGV at GCU, Levi had a career-high 25 points along with four assists and three steals. Blacksher Jr. had 15 points, five assists and five rebounds in the loss.
So, this is a battle to keep an eye on.
Where to Watch
Friday night’s battle of undefeated teams will be broadcast on ESPN+ at 6 p.m. MT. Saturday the game can be seen on the WAC Digital Network with tip at 6 p.m. MT