The Grand Canyon and Arizona State campuses are only a few miles apart, but the basketball programs have met officially only once in 1980 and twice in exhibitions in 2007 and 2011.
On Sunday, the Antelopes (4-0) and No. 23 Sun Devils (3-2) will face each other for the first time as Division I opponents, when ASU takes the brief drive to GCU Arena in Phoenix.
Grand Canyon is in its eighth season in Division I and plays in the WAC. The Antelopes were previously in the NAIA and won three national titles at that level.
“We are thrilled for the opportunity to play a series with Arizona State,” first-year Grand Canyon coach Bryce Drew said. “(ASU coach) Bobby Hurley has built one of the better programs in the country, and this will be a series that the Phoenix area will be very excited for.”
Drew is also thrilled about how his team is playing coming off an 87-77 win over visiting Nevada behind a 15-0 run in the second half on Friday night.
ASU was victim to an 18-2 run in the second half Friday night by No. 24 San Diego State in an 80-68 loss at home.
“I learned that we like to compete, that we are tough,” said Grand Canyon’s Jovan Blacksher Jr., who finished with a career-high 22 points in the win after Nevada went on an 8-0 run to take a 62-60 lead with 10:27 left in regulation.
“When adversity hits, we don’t just fold. We kind of like adversity.”
Hurley took a while to talk with his team and the media after the loss to San Diego State because he reviewed the Aztecs’ second-half run with ASU leading 43-41 with the ball.
“I ended up just watching it (the second-half run), so I got to revisit those possessions and it was a combination of poor shot selection, careless turnovers and bad transitions after mistakes,” Hurley said. “It felt like a really ugly game, difficult game for anyone to really get on an offensive rhythm. They emerged from that 15-minute mark in the second half and really outplayed us, were more physical, more resilient.”
Alonzo Verge Jr. returned after a two-game absence because of COVID-19 contact tracing and scored 25 points while making a career-high seven 3-pointers.
His backcourt mate Remy Martin, who averages 15.6 points per game, was subdued by the Aztecs with nine points and more turnovers (three) than field goals made (two).
“He had a little bit of a blank look on him and wasn’t really having that fire and energy that I’m always use to seeing from him,” Hurley said.
Grand Canyon’s Mikey Dixon, a St. John’s transfer, sparked his team against Nevada with a season-high 11 points — all in the second half. In one sequence during the 15-0 run, he finished on a fast break, made a baseline reverse and then gave the Antelopes a 75-62 lead by draining a 3-pointer.
“I was proud of Mikey because he was patient,” Drew said. “He kept waiting his turn. We talk to our team that there’s going to be certain days that certain players are going to get more shots than others.”
–Field Level Media