It’s grind time for a Grand Canyon basketball team that has traveled a rocky season.
Nothing has been easy in its last eight games, winning six of those, and getting in position to be the No. 2 seed in the WAC Tournament in Las Vegas in March.
“I told them, ‘Most of the way down the stretch it’s going to be a grind-it-out fistfight,’ ” coach Dan Majerle said. “It’s going to be three- or four-point games. Every possession is going to matter down the stretch.”
GCU (11-13, 6-4) has six games remaining. But Majerle’s telling his players there are nine games left, because he is counting three WAC Tournament games.
The biggest obstacle, of course, is getting over New Mexico State, which blocked GCU’s path to the NCAA Tournament the last two years, losing to the Aggies in the conference tournament final each time.
The Lopes, who have won six of their last eight WAC games, can’t afford to stumble Saturday at home at 6 p.m., against last-place Chicago State (4-22, 0-11).
There have been two key players who have come through lately to provide a glimmer of hope to a GCU season that at times looked like it was headed nowhere:
• Freshman point guard Jovan Blacksher Jr., a two-time All-Arizona player at Phoenix Shadow Mountain High School, is coming off his best game with 17 points, 12 rebounds and five assists with only one turnover, playing 41 minutes in Thursday’s 71-66 overtime win over Kansas City.
“He’s a freshman who has been playing 36 minutes a game, thrown into the college game, and learning on the fly,” Majerle said. “He hasn’t even tapped his potential yet. He works, he learns, he listens. He’s going to be a great one. It has surprised me he has played this well as a freshman. He’s going to continue to get better.”
• Graduate transfer swingman Lorenzo Jenkins, who came in from Colorado State, is coming off back-to-back big games off the bench. He had 20 points, making 2 of 3 3-pointers and 6 of 8 free throws, in a 103-98 win at California Baptist in 28 minutes. He followed that Thursday with 12 points, including 10 of 10 free throws, and six rebounds in 37 minutes against Kansas City.
“Fifth-year transfers sometimes take a while,” Majerle said. “Michael Finke took a while. He didn’t start playing really well until we got to conference last year and he became an all-conference player.
“Doobie (Jenkins’ nickname) just has to figure out who he is. When he goes to the free throw line 10 times, that’s who he is,” Majerle said. “He can make shots. He did against Cal Baptist. He’s a physical, athletic big kid. He can’t just settle for being an outside player. He’s got to be downhill, take the ball to the basket. That will open up other shots for him. I think he continues to get better. We’re going to need him.”
Chicago State (4-22, 0-11) at GCU (11-13, 6-4), 6 p.m., Saturday — GCU has won six of its last eight. Chicago State has lost 16 in a row and is 1-10 on the road. It is coming off a 64-54 loss at Cal State Bakersfield. …GCU was led by freshman point guard Jovan Blacksher’s 17 points, 12 rebounds and five assists in Thursday’s 71-66 overtime win over Kansas City, a game in which the Lopes trailed by eight early in the second half. GCU is holding onto the No. 2 spot in the WAC, because Cal Baptist, which is 7-3, is ineligible for the post-season as it must have four years in NCAA Division I before it becomes eligible for the conference tournament. This is year two for Cal Baptist in Division I.
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