In a game that came down to the wire, ACU ultimately fell to the Grand Canyon University Antelopes in the first matchup between the two teams since 2015, 74-69.
The game started tight in the first quarter, with both teams exchanging points with each other, with the quarter finishing with the Wildcats up 19-17. That all changed in the second quarter, where GCU outscored ACU 21-11 and took an eight-point lead heading to halftime. In head coach Julie Goodenough’s eyes, the second quarter cost the team severely.
“The second quarter was the game,” Goodenough said. “We had too many defensive lapses, lost our girl on multiple occasions and gave them wide-open shots. If you give teams at this level wide-open shots, they’re going to hit those, and I feel if we had played a little bit better team defense in the second quarter, it would have been a different ball game.”
The Wildcats came out swinging heading out of the locker room and started the third quarter on an 8-0 run to get back into the game. For the remainder of the game, the Wildcats and Antelopes exchanged baskets, resulting in a game that had six ties and 12 lead changes.
In the end, it was the Antelopes who ended up taking the win. With ten seconds left in the game, graduate guard Amara Graham, who led all scorers with 23 points, hit a clutch three-point shot to give GCU a one-point lead. This stemmed 7-0 run for the away team, which in the end, gave them the five-point win.
“I am proud of how our team responded, with us coming out at halftime and tying the game,” Goodenough said. “It was a boat race in the second half, with neither team not quite being able to get a margin far enough from the other. I hate for it to come down to the wire like it did not be able to pull out a win at home.”
One of the other things that the Wildcats struggled dealing with apart from their defense in the second quarter was turnovers.
GCU, who leads the entire NCAA in steals per game, finished with 13 steals, just below their average, and caused the Wildcats to turn the ball over 21 times. Good defense turns to great offense, and the Antelopes finished shooting 50 percent from the field and 48 percent from the 3-point line, while ACU shot 40 percent and 36 percent, respectively.
One of the positives for the Wildcats in this matchup was the return of all of their players who were in quarantine due to COVID-19 protocols. These included starters like senior guard Kamryn Mraz and graduate forward Jamie Bonnarens, who earned her 11th straight double-digit performance and led all scorers with 13 points.
With the return of some players and this game being the third in a week for the Wildcats not in isolation, Goodenough saw some fatigue in her players.
“It’s hard when you go into isolation for eight or nine days and then you are expected to play a hundred percent and play all the minutes you were playing before going into quarantine,” Goodenough said. “It takes a while to get back into it, and then there are the ones who have played hard in all three games this week, so we were all a little winded. But we have a high character group of women, and they are going to respond well after tonight.”
Following Bonnarens in scoring was senior guard Madi Miller, freshman guard Bella Earle and sophomore guard Taylor Morgan with 12 points each. Miller finished the game leading the team with eight rebounds, while Morgan finished the game shooting 10-10 from the free-throw line.
One thing that Morgan noted after the game was how important it is for the team to communicate, and if they continue to work on that, they will be hard to beat.
“Whenever we played team defense and communicated really well, that’s whenever we were at our best,” Morgan said. “There were some spurts where personally I lost my man and my other teammates lost their man, but whenever we were communicating, we were playing good defense. We may not be the fastest, and we can’t always jump the highest, but if we communicate and play good team basketball, we’ll be hard to beat.”
After Thursday night’s loss, the team is now 3-2 in conference play and currently sits as the fifth-ranked team in the Western Athletic Conference.
The Wildcats again face another fast turnaround as they get ready for their next opponent, another WAC staple, the New Mexico State Aggies. Heading into their next matchup, coach Goodenough has confidence that her team will learn from the mistakes they made on Thursday night and be ready for their next game on Saturday.
“We’ll reflect back on some ways we could have defended better tomorrow and make some corrections on that,” Goodenough said. “This a talented team on the floor, but also a high character team off the floor, and they’re going to respond well. They’re upset that we dropped another game, and I think they will come back willing to fight even harder on Saturday to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
The two teams will play at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, January 15 at the Teague Special Events Center, with the game streaming live on ESPN+.