PHOENIX – The Valley of the Sun is home to fauna and flora, cacti and a plethora of botanical plants.
Monday inside the GCU arena, the desert landscape and United States’ fifth-largest city was host to palpable progress for the Tarleton women’s basketball team.
The Texans fell 64-55 to Grand Canyon but made the Western Athletic Conference’s second place team work for every bit of its narrowest home victory of the season.
Tarleton, playing its fourth consecutive road game in a 10-day span, was within two points of the Lopes entering the fourth quarter and trailed by just one point at halftime. The Texans limited GCU to 30 percent shooting and 22 points scored in the first half.
It was the continuation of a strong defensive stretch for Tarleton. The Texans have limited their last three opponents to 62.5 points per game after allowing their first nine Division I foes to score more than 75 points each time out.
GCU’s Katie Scott (17 ppg, 7 rpg), a three-time recipient of WAC Player of the Week honors, was expected to dictate the action in the frontcourt. Instead, it was Tarleton’s Marissa Escamilla who stole the show and proved to be the game’s most consistent forward.
The Burnet, Texas native scored a game and career-high 23 points on 8-10 shooting and also tied for the game’s high in rebounds with eight. Escamilla, 5-9, battled Scott all night, limiting the 6-5 freshman to eight points – her lowest scoring figure in conference play – and three rebounds.
A season-high 26 turnovers ultimately undid the Texans as did missed opportunities in the half court. Tarleton shot 41 percent from the field – its second consecutive game hitting above a 35 percent clip – but 36 of its points came from Escamilla and freshman Iyana Dorsey (13 points).
GCU opened the game with an 10-5 scoring spurt as the Texans turned the ball over five times within the first four-and-a-half minutes of action and eight for the quarter. Tarleton, however, quickly righted the ship. Free throws from Dorsey and pair of finishes inside by Escamilla fueled an 8-4 scoring finish to end the frame.
Dorsey and junior Kandyn Faurie again handled point guard duties and began to break down GCU head coach Molly Miller’s patented full-court press. Faurie made her sixth consecutive start as Tarleton’s point guard and tied senior Kaitlyn Guillory for the team-lead in assists with three.
Tarleton led for more than six minutes in the second quarter. Tarleton limited Scott to just two first-half points and three attempts from the field. A poke-away by Escamilla, who defended Scott for the majority of the evening, set up a transition layup to make the score 18-17 midway through the period.
The Texans packed the paint defensively, forcing GCU into contested takes at the rim and jump shots. The Lopes took a 22-21 lead into the half as both teams struggled to find an offensive groove. The teams combined for 24 turnovers and 16 made field goals.
GCU had 18 giveaways for the game.
Dorsey rattled off three consecutive makes from long range to open the third quarter to give Tarleton a 31-26 edge at the 6:26 mark of the frame. Ultimately, it proved to be the Texans’ final advantage of the ballgame.
GCU promptly drained back-to-back triples of its own to help stake itself to a 38-33 lead with 2:40 remaining in the period. A buzzer-beating triple from Escamilla to end the third quarter had the score 42-40, though GCU seized control of the contest in the game’s final frame.
Three consecutive Texan turnovers from 5:44-4:43 led to three easy Lopes layups and saw a 49-45 deficit swell into a 10-point GCU lead. Escamilla and Jaci Morton got the Texans within seven following back-to-back trips to the line. The Lopes then responded with three quick scores to assume their largest lead of the game at 61-50 with 2:16 to go.
The Texans enjoyed a 26-7 edge in bench scoring and were within five rebounds (32-27) of the Lopes despite playing at a noticeable size disadvantage.
The loss was Tarleton’s fifth consecutive defeat in conference play. The Texans (4-11, 0-5 WAC) defeated fellow conference member UTRGV in Edinburg on Wednesday to halt a seven-game losing streak, though the game counted as a nonconference affair. GCU moved to 10-3 overall and 2-1 in conference play with the victory.
The two teams face off again at 7 p.m. CT on Tuesday in Phoenix.