So, yeah, the Grand Canyon junior was excited to play in Orleans Arena again. Thanks to the guard’s efforts, the Lopes are one win from the first NCAA Tournament berth in school history, as Johnson’s season-high 35 points led his team to a 78-74 win over Utah Valley on Friday night in the Western Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals.
“I told the guys before we played that we played here my senior year against a really good team and I had a really good game here,” Johnson said. “I just felt it was nothing new, playing in here. It just felt good, coming back here and playing in Orleans Arena.”
Johnson was once committed to UNLV, but he looked elsewhere when former coach Chris Beard left for Texas Tech. Johnson began his collegiate career at Washington, but transferred to Grand Canyon (20-12) this season.
The Centralia, Illinois, junior is now the key to his new team’s postseason hopes, as he has 66 points through two tournament games on 22-of-42 shooting overall and 10-of-16 shooting from 3-point range. Friday against the second-seeded Wolverines (24-9), he also led the Lopes in rebounds (seven) and assists (assists).
“Once you’re feeling it, the rims just get bigger,” Johnson said. “That’s what it felt like.”
Now all that’s left for Johnson to do is beat top-seeded New Mexico State on Saturday in the championship game and earn an NCAA Tournament bid. The Aggies are good, but Johnson has faced challenges at Orleans Arena before.
“We’ve handled two games,” Johnson said. “We know we have a big game ahead of us, so it’s all about resting and whatever’s on the scout, executing.”
In other WAC tournament games:
New Mexico State 79, Texas-Rio Grande Valley 72 — Junior guard Terrell Brown scored 19 points as the top-seeded Aggies (29-4) defeated the fourth-seeded Vaqueros (19-16) on Friday to set a program record for victories in a season.
New Mexico State led 59-40 with 14:03 left, but Texas-Rio Grande Valley cut the deficit to three points with 7:13 remaining.
The Aggies held on for their 18th straight win despite not making a field goal in the final 3:58.
New Mexico State 91, Kansas City 80, OT — Junior guard Gia Pack scored 11 of her career-high 36 points in overtime, and the top-seeded Aggies (25-6) outlasted the fourth-seeded Kangaroos (16-15).
New Mexico State won its 16th straight game, the second-longest winning streak in program history. Junior guard Ericka Mattingly scored 37 points for Kansas City, a single-game team postseason record.
Texas-Rio Grande Valley 69, Cal State Bakersfield 58 — Senior forward Madison Northcutt recorded her 12th double-double of the season with 17 points and 12 rebounds, and the second-seeded Vaqueros (18-13) coasted by the third-seeded Roadrunners (14-17).
Texas-Rio Grande Valley trailed 45-36 late in the third quarter but went on a 21-1 run to take a 57-46 lead with 6:17 to play.