Students roar with delight at NCAA selection party

A wild celebration in GCU Arena followed the announcement of the Lopes' pairing with Iowa in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau

The wait wasn’t long.

Around 500 students arrived full-throated at GCU Arena Sunday to collectively go nuts over the national television announcement of Grand Canyon University's opponent in its first NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament appearance.

After a half-hour of thumping music and dancing in the seats to rival any club, the Arena’s big screen lit up with the NCAA March Madness Selection Show, televised nationally on CBS. Greg Gumbel announced just minutes later that GCU would play Iowa in the first round of the tournament on Saturday (3:25 p.m. Phoenix time on TBS) in Indianapolis, and the Arena erupted. Streamers cascaded from on high to the Arena floor.

The wait wasn’t long. In only its fourth year of tournament eligibility after joining NCAA Division I eight years ago (and in reality its third since the 2020 NCAA tournament was canceled because of the pandemic), the 15th-seeded Lopes will be part of one of the nation’s biggest sporting spectacles.

GCU President Brian Mueller appeared before the cheering student section, the Havocs, holding the game ball from the commissioner of the Western Athletic Conference after the Lopes' conference title game win over New Mexico State on Saturday assured them a spot in the NCAAs.

“This is going to be encased in front of the Arena, but this is the property of the greatest student body in America,” Mueller told cheering students. “This is your ball. Congratulations.”

University Event and Spirit Programs leaders and students quickly leapt into action to celebrate in the GCU way at a home venue that has gained national praise for its spirit.

There were Lopes Up all around Sunday in GCU Arena, where about 500 students gathered to celebrate.

“We are so happy for students, the student athletes and the student body and their willingness and desire to support each other, to rally around each other, and the pride they have in each other and the University,” Mueller said afterward.

The tournament selection will mean increased national visibility for GCU.

“For the people that don’t know about the University, about our program and our student body and the enthusiasm that surrounds everything we do here, the positivity that surrounds everything we do here, this will give us a chance to give that exposure,” Mueller said.

Many GCU fans watched on ESPNU Saturday night as the Lopes played one of their best games of the year, firmly in control of a game against rival NMSU from start to finish.

Dr. Paul Danuser, an Assistant Professor in the College of Education, said he was standing in front of his TV the entire second half.

“I cried,” said Danuser, known as the exuberant public address announcer for games who led Sunday’s Purple Pregame Party.

“Seeing these guys come in as freshmen, Oscar (Frayer) and Alessandro (Lever), getting close but not quite there, and knowing everything they’ve gone through personally and in school … and to see this, I’m just so thrilled for these guys. I think this is something we will look back on. It hasn’t quite hit yet.”

It was bedlam in the glow of the big screen at GCU Arena during the Selection Show broadcast.

The GCU Dance and Cheer teams and Thundering Heard Pep Band led the celebration with music, dancing and yelling.

“We are here to bring the party,” said R.J. Villacorte, carrying the Pep Band’s big bass drum and a free hot dog. “It’s probably one of the craziest things that’s happened on our campus.

“It’s great incentive for students who look into us, especially basketball fans, who might see GCU as the new go-to school.”

The magical run by first-year coach Bryce Drew and his team happened during a year when the number of fans was limited during home games because of COVID-19 and everyone’s personal lives were upended.

“The students have been amazing bringing all the energy and following all the protocols these past few weeks,” Havocs president Joshua Gillespie said. “To see all that hard work pay off the last few days, it was crazy. I don’t have words. It was just fun to be there to watch the guys play so well.”

Gillespie joined other students who attended the WAC tournament games in Las Vegas, getting home to Phoenix at 5 a.m. Sunday to catch a few winks before planning for the Arena selection show party.

“We sent a text out after we won to come party tomorrow, and we got hundreds of students to come, just like that,” he said. “The Havocs are the best. They always show up and show out.”

It was never more evident than when those Havocs screamed as they watched the televised clip of their basketball team, quarantined at a hotel, jump from their chairs when GCU was announced.

“I’m really happy for our coaches and our players,” Mueller said. “I also believe this is not a one-time thing. This coaching staff has the chance for us to get there on a consistent basis.”

There are several Grand Canyon University’s Office of Alumni Relations' watch party locations for the NCAA tournament game Saturday:

Phoenix area:

  • Canyon 49 Grill, 5115 N. 27th Ave., Phoenix
  • Main Event, 1735 S. San Tan Village Pkwy., Gilbert
  • Dave & Buster's, 9460 W. Hanna Lane, Glendale

Tucson:

  • Dave & Buster's, 1390 E. Tucson Marketplace Blvd.

Houston:

  • Jake’s Sports Bar, 2944 Chimney Rock Road

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.

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Related content:

GCU Today: Havocs leaders ready to jump-start basketball season

GCU Today: How GCU helped the WAC increase its pack

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