Lopes swept up by emotional ups and downs at NCAA watch parties

Gleeful Lopes fans hit an emotional high as GCU scores in the NCAA tournament men’s basketball game against Alabama during the watch party at Global Credit Union Arena on Sunday.

Photos by Ralph Freso / Friday slideshow / Sunday slideshow

“Lopes fans! Ya gotta believe!!!”

Dr. Paul Danuser’s voice churned and rumbled on Friday night through the electric air at Global Credit Union Arena. Danuser echoed the line from “Peter Pan” that suggests that believing in something hard enough just might be the ultimate source of magic, including for men’s basketball.

“Do you believe we can win this game?” the assistant professor of education and public address announcer for Grand Canyon University men’s basketball asked the crowd of about 2,200 Lopes fans at the first of two intense weekend watch parties at the Arena that put fans through the emotional ringer.

A GCU cheerleader celebrates during the weekend's first watch party for the men’s NCAA tournament basketball game between GCU and Saint Mary's on Friday.

The wild symphony of screams told the story: Yes, they believed.

They believed absolutely, 100% and more, with 12 minutes to go in the first game of the NCAA tournament, the Lopes’ third time in four years to barrel their way to The Big Dance. This time, the No. 12 seed Lopes took on the No. 5 seed, Saint Mary’s.

A cheerleader gives a Lopes Up as basketball forward Gabe McGlothan is shown on the big screen Friday following the team’s victory against Saint Mary's in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

The anthemic “Party Til We Die” by Andrew W.K. then charged up the crowd.

Twelve. Minutes. To. Go.

Senior marketing major Russell Merry – like Christmas, he said of his last name – also believed.

Fully.

Top of his lungs, Merry yelled deliriously from Section 106 at the big screen that, at inappropriate and vital times in the game, would be slow to refresh and quick to up the tempers of already excitable fans.

“Get off the screen! Get off the screen!!!” Merry bellowed at the Saint Mary's players, then when star player Gabe McGlothan batted a ball away from the net, followed up with, “Whazzup? Whazzup! That’s what I’m talking about!!!”

Across the Arena, more than 200 high school seniors on a Discover GCU trip embedded themselves in the Arena for an experience of a lifetime.

Alumni show their Lopes spirit at Global Credit Union Arena at Friday's watch party.

Senior Christian studies major Caleb Yaso, Discover student worker, said his job is to give students who come from all around the country to visit GCU the best college experience possible, and what better way to experience the spirit of a college than at an NCAA tournament game.

It was hard to miss the uber charged-up Yaso.

He was dressed as a pickle for the occasion.

Why a pickle?

“It sticks out,” he said. “ … Being silly, goofy, just creating a more fun atmosphere is what I’m hyped about, and it’s what I’m excited for.”

He wanted to create that exciting atmosphere in the absence of many of the Havocs, who were among the 200-plus students who boarded commercial and charter flights to Spokane, Washington, to support the Lopes at the first round of the tournament.  

Members of the Thundering Heard Pep Band cheer at Global Credit Union Arena on Friday during the watch party for the men’s NCAA tournament basketball game between GCU and Saint Mary's.

No worries, plenty of students, from Dance to Cheer to Thundering Heard Pep Band, stayed behind to keep the home fires burning.

“This is exciting,” Yaso said of the team at the NCAAs. “This is the best chance that we have to make it further in the bracket then we have in the past years, so we’ve got to bring the energy; that’s why I brought the pickle.”

He believed, and for good reason.

The Lopes, who entered the tournament with one of the nation’s top 10 records for winning percentage at 28-4, upset Saint Mary’s, 73-64.

Students go into a frenzy after a three-point basket by the GCU basketball team during the watch party for the men’s NCAA tournament basketball game between GCU and Saint Mary's on Friday.

It marked GCU men's basketball's first NCAA tournament win in program history.

A hoopin’, hollerin’ Jackson Raedeke, a senior marketing major, tried to get on the plane to Spokane with other students, but when he couldn’t, the excitement of students and alumni at the Arena was the next best place to be.

“I have them going all the way – all the way,” he said of his tournament bracket. “I have total belief in the Lopes, total belief.”

It was a sentiment shared by senior business management major Caden Seiferth: “Full belief in the Lopes.”

“We played so well,” Raedeke said of the team and all the big shot blocks that players made against Saint Mary’s. “Our best players, they showed up on the BIGGEST stage.”

The party wasn’t over for Raedeke and Seiferth: “We’re gonna be Lopin’ up all night,” Seiferth declared, adding, “We’ll see you back Sunday.”

Sunday watch party

GCU cheerleaders get the crowd pumped for the NCAA tournament men’s basketball game between GCU and Alabama during the watch party at Global Credit Union Arena on Sunday.

From the front row of purple seats on the Arena floor for Sunday’s game against the University of Alabama, university admissions counselor Ben Kravitz turned away from the big screen, both hands high in a Lopes up, as he kneeled on the ground.

Lopes fans, including university admissions counselor Ben Kravitz (left), react to a play during Sunday's watch party.

“I don’t watch the free throws,” he said in the melee of the game, the Arena so loud that it was impossible to hear anything but exultation, hype, cheers, party music, yelling at the screen, more party music and more cheers. “I NEVER watch free throws, and then when people keep missing free throws, I REALLY don’t watch free throws … when we still keep missing, that’s the kneel.”

Kravitz downed an Uncrustable to keep up his energy.

After the first half, in the Arena lobby, a student was in line for concessions when he heard Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA” blaring from the speakers.

“Oh shoot! My song!” he says as he rushed back into the Arena.

It’s where ABC15 Arizona, one of four television news crews, was shooting Lopes fans in the watch party crowd, a whole section standing up and screaming in full spirit for the camera.

Students get energized for the NCAA tournament men’s basketball game between GCU and Alabama during the watch party at Global Credit Union Arena on Sunday.

The mood was intense, fans standing up.

As the second half geared up, two of the three famed Purple Professors – science professors Gail Francis, Dr. Sandy Bledsoe and Dr. Kathryn Kitzmiller – donned their purple wigs at the game.

The Purple Professors get into the spirit.

A GCU men’s basketball game isn’t quite a GCU men’s basketball game without the professors.

When the Lopes scored and were on the verge of tying the Crimson Tide, 54-55, the Arena erupted into cheers, fans jumping out of their seats and running into the open area on the Arena floor.

Full rumpus.

At the tie, Danuser, seated at the announcer table, looked around the Arena and just smiled at the crowd, though with just 5 minutes left in a close game, the Crimson Tide pulled away for a 72-61 loss, ending the Lopes’ third trip to the NCAAs.

A trip in which the Lopes went the furthest they’ve gone in the tournament.

Havocs react to a foul called on GCU at Sunday's Lope Nation Watch Party.

“It’s bittersweet,” Kravitz said. It was a game we could have won, he added.

Tyler Killgore, a junior communications major and Havocs leader, said at the watch party, “It’s sad for the season to be over, because this is like the best team GCU’s ever had. (Coach) Bryce Drew? He did awesome … The program is definitely hitting a new high.”

Students can hardly watch as the team struggles to score in the final minutes of the NCAA tournament men’s basketball game against Alabama during Sunday's watch party at Global Credit Union Arena.

Every game this season has been electric, Killgore said. “Every single one. … There was not a single home game this year that we didn’t fill the student section completely.”

Danuser, in his 12th year with men’s basketball, said he has seen the team’s ascension and how special it is to reach this level.

“It’s a privilege to be here,” he said.

And a moment like this?

“You just savor it.”

You believe.

GCU Internal Communications Manager Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.

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