Grand Canyon needed something to snap out of their unease midway through the second half.
It took a technical foul from coach Bryce Drew, arguing a flagrant foul called on guard Chance McMillian.
Utah Valley only made 1 of 4 free throws.
Sean Miller-Moore then took an alley pass from Holland Woods II, igniting the sold-out crowd and the Antelopes on their way to a 68-57 win over Utah Valley in a critical Western Athletic Conference game at GCU Arena Thursday night.
“I just think in an intense game the players are aggressive, the coaches are aggressive,” Drew said. “I was really happy with how our guys bounced the basketball in the last 10 minutes.”
That might have been the most furious Drew has been this season in a game. This seemed to excite his players.
“You’re a competitor and you see your coach fighting for something that we can’t control,” Woods said. “So we just wanted to keep riding it.”
The victory keeps the Antelopes (21-7, 12-5) in position to earn a top-four seed that would give them a bye to the quarterfinals of next Thursday’s WAC tournament in Las Vegas.
Utah Valley (19-10, 10-7) was swept by GCU this season and fell two games behind the Lopes in the WAC standings with one game to go. The Wolverines finish Saturday at New Mexico State, while GCU finishes at home Saturday against Dixie State.
“We know what we did,” Woods said. “We know we lost a few early on. But people always say you have to play your best basketball in March. And we think we have some momentum.”
GCU have won their last three games by playing with more intensity on defense and hitting free throws.
The Lopes made 22 of 30 free throws on Thursday. Woods made it 11 of 14, many of which came late as Wolverines were forced into a foul. Woods finished with 24 points and that one assist to Miller-Moore that really got the Lopes rolling.
“Me and him have had a little allied-oop chemistry this season,” Woods said. “Every time I drive, if I don’t have something immediately, I look for it. He knows. It’s just second nature now. We have this feeling for each other.”
GCU got a lot more aggressive going to the basket for shots the rest of the way.
Point guard Jovan Blacksher Jr. had 15 points, five assists and one turnover in 36 minutes. Gabe McGlothan had eight points and 12 rebounds.
The Lopes did a masterful job on Player of the Year nominee Fardaws Aimaq, though he finished with 19 points and 19 rebounds before committing a foul with 2:27 remaining.
Yvan Ouedraogo put a body on Aimaq every time he got the ball back. And he got help from teammates who swarmed the 6-foot-10 Aimaq. He was 6 of 18 shooting and made 7 of 11 free throws.
“He’s got really good hands, really good feet, really good contact around the rim,” Drew said. “He has a purpose in everything he does. It’s no coincidence that he had 19 rebounds. It’s because he has a good idea of where the ball is going and he can this place before he was here.”
With 3:20 to go and GCU leading 61-50, guard Chance McMillian blocked Aimaq’s shot from behind. The ball went to McGlothan, who brought it back to Woods, before it was fouled by Aimaq which ended the big man’s night.
Although McMillian missed his first four shots and finished with five points, his defense and one-on-one plays to make saves to keep offensive possessions alive were key to the streak. He had an offensive rebound which he handed in for a score as he was fouled.
“He made some incredible winning plays in the last seven minutes,” Drew said. “He’s played the best basketball of his GCU career the last three games.”
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