By: Ruby Arani/ GCU Staff
A champion is crowned.
In the most intense game of the season by far, the Grand Canyon University Women’s Club Basketball Team Purple fell just short of winning the first-ever Arizona Women’s Basketball League Championship game, losing to the Bears of Bella Vista College Preparatory, 58-56, in overtime. Meanwhile, in their season finale, GCU White ended their season with a tough loss to the Redhawks of Benedictine University, 60-54. Both games were played simultaneously to close out the first season of AWBL play Thursday night at the Canyon Activity Center on the GCU campus
AWBL Championship: Bella Vista College Preparatory 58, GCU Purple 56
Emotions and nerves ran high as both teams took the court for tip-off in front of the largest crowd in AWBL history – many of who spent much of the game on their feet. The tempo was set quickly by the Lopes who scored the first basket, but Bella Vista finished the first quarter with the lead, 9-8. In the second quarter, the Bears went on a solid run to increase their lead, but the Lopes battled back and tied the game at 22-22 in the final seconds of the half with a defensive block by Jenny Lee Albano, and a three-pointer by Cassandra Ibarra.
Outside shooting by the Lopes in the first few minutes of the second half gave the Lopes a five-point lead, but the Bears fought back to tie the game at 32-32 with two minutes left in the 3rd quarter. Daeja Banner finished the quarter with a layup to give the Lopes the lead going into the fourth quarter, 39-35. The fourth quarter issued in an intense back and forth ten minutes. With Bella Vista leading by three, Banner was given a chance to tie the game after being fouled shooting a three-point shot with 13 seconds left, she went to the line to shoot three. After sinking the first free throw, Banner missed the final two, but GCU’s Karlee Souve grabbed the rebound and made a jumper in the lane to send the game to overtime tied at 50-50.
In overtime, the Bears went on a six-point run, but the Lopes responded with a three-pointer by Ibarra. As the clock wound down, BVCP point guard Iva Drobnjak picked her 5th (and disqualifying) foul, and the ensuing protest by Bella Vista Head Coach Stephen Moss earned him a technical foul, giving the Lopes four free throws. The Lopes converted three of the four to tie it again, 56-56, with 1:10 left. The scoreboard wouldn’t budge until the Bears’ Arina Khokhlova downed a jumper with eight seconds left to give BVCP the lead. The Lopes’ final shot went awry to give the Bears the win and the first-ever AWBL Championship trophy.
“I am really proud of the girls for battling,” said Lopes’ Head Coach Kyle Speed. “Hats off to Bella Vista. They made a few more plays than we did, and they are now the AWBL Champions this year.”
GCU senior Megan Wall led the Lopes with 17 points, while Jaiviana James added 12 – despite being forced to the sideline with muscle cramps in the final minutes.
“My seniors, Wall and James, always come with it,” said Speed. “It sucked to lose James at the end of this one. It has been a pleasure coaching those girls. We wouldn’t have gotten this far without them. And (Lopes’ junior) Karlee Souve had an awesome offensive rebound to get us into overtime, two clutch free-throws in overtime and a handful of rebounds.”
The chapter on one season ends…
“It was a good season for us,” noted Speed. “It didn’t end the way we wanted – with losing the championship at NIRSA, and now losing the championship in our own league, but to compete and to get there? The journey is what we will remember, it was a heck of a ride.”
…and a new chapter begins.
“The level of this league – and what we are trying to do – has raised this year from the girls we had,” said Speed. “I want to bring back some more leaders that can help this program continue to grow and keep it on the right direction.”
Benedictine University 60, GCU White 54
For their last game of the season, GCU White pulled out all the stops. The Lopes went into halftime trailing Benedictine, 31-17, but scored 21 points in the third quarter to close the Redhawks’ lead, 48-40.
The Lopes continued to rally early in the 4th quarter, and came within one, 50-49 with six minutes left, but could never get the lead before running out of gas down the stretch.
Lopes’ freshman Jayden Bies came in clutch with 26 points to lead the way – 19 of them coming in the second half. GCU’s Paige Johnson also scored 10 of her 12 points after halftime.
Interested in playing in AWBL? Contact Lopes’ Head Coach Kyle Speed today!