A showdown for first place in the Western Athletic Conference is happening this Thursday, as the Grand Canyon Antelopes takes on the Bakersfield Roadrunners at 7pm in the GCU arena.  This is one of the biggest games of the year for both the Antelopes and the Roadrunners.  A win for the Roadrunners would mark their most significant win of the season.  A Lopes victory would grant them control of the WAC, while adding another significant win to their already impressive resume.  Not only is first place on the line, but the Roadrunners and the Lopes share a budding rivalry.  The fairly new division one school, GCU, does not have an official competitive rival, but the Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunners may be the closest one to it.  The Roadrunners and the Lopes have contemporary history together; as both schools regularly competed against each other during their days in the CCAA.  Cal State Bakersfield is the Lopes most familiar foe in the Division 1 ranks, as this game will be the 34th time the two teams have faced each other.  Currently the Roadrunners lead the competitive basketball series 19­-14.  However, the Lopes have won all 4 meetings against the Roadrunners since they have been competitors in the WAC.  In addition, there are only 483 miles separating the two campuses.  A big game with high stakes, and a rowdy environment, may contain the recipe to fully ignite this rivalry.  With all of the tension heading into this game, this matchup has a lot of potential to be a very good “Game of the Week.”

In their third year in division one, Grand Canyon has taken the college basketball world by storm by becoming one of the best stories in College Basketball this year.  In their third year as a division 1 school, the Lopes are currently leading the WAC with a 5-0 conference record, and have a nation leading 18 wins.  In addition, the Lopes are currently riding a 12 game winning streak.  During that streak the Lopes have recorded signature wins against the likes of Houston, San Diego State, New Mexico State, and Marshall.  Those wins are starting to create a buzz around the college basketball spectrum.  Even ESPN College Basketball reporter, Jeff Goodman, gave the Lopes some love.

In addition, last week the Lopes received an AP Top 25 vote from NBC New Orleans reporter Fletcher Mackel. The CSU Bakersfield Roadrunners are also enjoying a fine season, going 14-6 with a 4-1 record in WAC play.  The Roadrunners have played very well all year, but they have faced a very weak schedule that ranks 324th nationally.  Against the quality teams they have played, the Roadrunners had promising performances at Arizona State Fresno State, and Wyoming.  Bakersfield comes into this game on a four game road winning streak; three of those coming against WAC opponents.  However, the Roadrunners suffered a heart breaking home loss to New Mexico State 68-67 after Ian Baker hit a game winning three in the closing seconds.  Coach Rod Barnes is going to have to bring this team together to have a bounce back performance against the Lopes in Phoenix. This game is one of the most interesting matchups during Thursday’s college basketball slate.  It’s a classic matchup between a very good offense from the Lopes, and a very good defense from Bakersfield.  In his third year at the helm of the Lopes, Sun’s legend Dan Majerle has orchestrated one of the hottest offenses in the country.  The Lopes have scorers all over the floor, and they are organized by senior point guard DeWayne Russell who averages 9.8 points and leads the conference in assists averaging 5.9 per game.  With Russell at the point, you will rarely see the Lopes have a bad offensive possession; which is huge reason why they ranked 30th in the country in offensive efficiency, in addition to having the 35th ranked scoring offense, averaging 80.4 points per game.  In addition, the Lopes feature one of the most dynamic scorers in the country that nobody knows about. Their offensive machine is lead by dynamic scoring, Josh Braun, who is averaging 17.4 points and 5.8 rebounds.  Braun has been on fire averaging 25.4 points during conference play, and he has scored 30+ in 2 out of his last 3.  Bakersfield forward Kevin Maye will have the tough task of slowing down Braun on Thursday night. While the Lopes have a juggernaut offense the Roadrunners have a very stingy defense.  Rod Barnes teams are usually known for being very scrappy.  His teams are very physical down low, they dive for loose balls, and take charges. This type of play has lead to the team being ranked 24th nationally in defensive efficiency, 32nd in scoring defense, and surrendering only 64.2 points per game. The Roadrunners are lead by their 6’9″ Junior center from Cairo, Egypt, Aly Ahmed.  Ahmed is a force in the middle averaging 14.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks.  The Lopes, lacking a true center, are going to need to find a way to match up with Ahmed.  The Roadrunners stingy defense also features scrappy 5’10” guard Dedrick Basile.  Basile is their best perimeter player averaging 12.1 points, 3.6 assists, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.9 steals. Basile is going to be the guy in charge of disrupting GCU’s offense.  The Roadrunners will need a big game out of their star guard in order to leave Phoenix with a win.  In addition to Ahmed and Basile, the Roadrunners need huge contributions from senior forward Kevin Maye and Damiyne Durham. They have relied on these four players all year, each one of them averages at least 12 points per contest. The GCU and Bakersfield game is one the best games that nobody is talking about this week. It is certainly a contest that you do not want to miss. With the GCU HAVOCS (see below) hosting “America Night” there will be certainly an electric and patriotic atmosphere for Thursday’s showcase. The game will be broadcasted at 7 PM Mountain time on COX Arizona and will also be streamed live here.

Hyped. So very hyped. A video posted by Student Union (@studentusports) on