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Gonzaga Basketball

Longtime friends Julian Strawther, Maxwell Lewis combine for 42 points in Gonzaga’s 111-82 win over Pepperdine

Gonzaga’s Julian Strawther guards Pepperdine’s Maxwell Lewis during Saturday’s West Coast Conference opener at McCarthey Athletic Center.  (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

A 6-foot-10 forward from Dallas stole the show, but a pair of 6-7 wings from Las Vegas were happy to play supporting roles in Saturday’s West Coast Conference opener between No. 10 Gonzaga and Pepperdine.

Drew Timme’s 35-point effort wasn’t enough on its own to carry Gonzaga on a day the Bulldogs conceded their third-highest scoring total of the season. Junior Julian Strawther led five other Gonzaga players in double figures, scoring 22 points in a 111-88 victory at McCarthey Athletic Center.

On the other end, Pepperdine’s Maxwell Lewis, someone Strawther grew up with in southern Nevada, gave the Zags headaches with his shot-making – particularly in the second half – and wound up with a team-high 20 points.

Strawther attended Liberty High School in Vegas and didn’t cross paths with Lewis, a product of Arizona’s Compass Prep, at the prep level, but the opposing wings and longtime friends have extensive court time together beyond their meetings in the WCC.

The Vegas natives used the same personal trainer in middle school and “used to work out all the time,” according to Strawther.

Foul trouble limited Lewis to 7 minutes in the first half, but he and Strawther saw lots of each other in the second half, combining to score 23 points after halftime.

“It’s always fun,” Strawther said. “Those are the matchups you live for, play against other high-level guys, especially being able to play against another high-level guy from my hometown, so that was super fun. He’s a really talented scorer. He can score in all facets of the game, so just to have a little back and forth and both put up pretty good performances tonight, it’s fun and that’s what we live for.”

Strawther and Lewis are considered two of the WCC’s top wing players and may also represent the conference’s best NBA prospects, with various mock drafts projecting the Gonzaga junior and Pepperdine sophomore to go anywhere from the middle of the first round to early in the second round of the 2023 draft.

Multiple NBA representatives, including first-year Portland Trail Blazers assistant general manager Mike Schmitz – a former ESPN NBA draft analyst – were in attendance Saturday to watch Strawther and Lewis combine for 42 points.

Strawther, who’d been battling an illness the past three weeks, emerged out of his December slump to hit the 20-point mark for the second time this season. He’d averaged 10 points over GU’s past four games, including a four-point effort on Dec. 12 against Northern Illinois.

“It was huge. Obviously, there was a couple of games over the past few that I wasn’t too happy with my personal performance,” Strawther said. “Just kind of leaning on these guys to pick me up and the conference provides a new season, kind of. Everyone starts 0-0, so just coming to the mentality it’s a new season and I can come out here and make an impact. So it was good for my confidence to come out here and have a good performance.”

Strawther finished 4 of 8 from the 3-point line, making at least four 3s for the third time in his career. He also had four rebounds.

“I thought Julian really responded well with just kind of the ups and downs of the game,” GU head coach Mark Few said. “He didn’t get caught up in that, whether it was a bad miss or missed defensive assignment. He still stayed positive on the offensive end and he hit some big shots during that run and we were able to stretch that thing out.

“It’s great to have that ability to shoot from deep and shoot so quickly from deep and so effortlessly. I think the guys are doing a better job of pitching it ahead and finding him.”

Lewis picked up two fouls 45 seconds apart in the first half and went to Pepperdine’s bench for nearly 8 minutes. Within 16 seconds of returning to the floor, Lewis was whistled for his third foul and sat for the remainder of the half.

“It’s interesting, I looked at halftime and he was the only guy on their team with a positive plus/minus,” Few said. “I was like, uh oh.”

Lewis, who averages 19.4 points and 5.7 rebounds for the Waves, didn’t commit a foul in the second half and scored 13 points after halftime despite dealing with turnover issues. He finished 9 of 13 from the field and 2 of 3 from the 3-point line.

“So he’s really made himself into a phenomenal scorer. He’s scoring at all three levels now,” Few said. “If you even relax a little bit – we relaxed and just like that, he hit a 3 on us. A deep 3. Hit midranges and posted us up. They do a great job of different actions to find him in different spots. Really, really good player.”