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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Third-seeded Gonzaga has several connections to first-round foe Grand Canyon

March 12, 2023 Updated Sun., March 12, 2023 at 10:01 p.m.

Last year it was Gonzaga coach Mark Few sweating out a potential second-round matchup against Boise State when the NCAA Tournament bracket was revealed. This year it was GU assistant coach Roger Powell’s turn.

A few bracketology gurus projected a Gonzaga-Grand Canyon first-round matchup and that became official Sunday during the selection show on CBS.

The third-seeded Zags (28-5) and No. 14 Grand Canyon (24-11) clash Friday at 4:35 PDT in a West Region opener at Ball Arena in Denver.

The matchup hits close to home for Powell, who assisted Grand Canyon coach Bryce Drew in Drew’s previous stops at Valparaiso and Vanderbilt. Gonzaga video coordinator Kurt Bambauer also spent a few years at Vanderbilt with Drew as an assistant video coordinator.

“He’s sat by me on the bench for years,” Drew said of Powell, “so that’s a difficult one with him.”

Few, too, has connections from his close friendship with Drew’s brother, Scott, the head coach at Baylor. GU lost to Baylor in the 2021 national championship. Baylor, the third seed in the South Region, faces UC Santa Barbara at 10:30 a.m. Friday in Denver.

“Roger and I talked about it two hours before (the selection show) when we had a little workout, and he talked to Bryce about it last night before it even happened. It seems like it’s always like that (with) Boise State (led by former GU assistant Leon Rice) last year,” said Few, who avoided facing good friend Rice when the Broncos lost to Memphis. “At least (former Zag assistant and Arizona coach) Tommy (Lloyd) is on the other side (as a two seed in the South).”

Grand Canyon, which reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 2021, was the fifth seed in the Western Athletic Conference Tournament. The Antelopes, commonly referred to as Lopes, won four games in five days, knocking off No. 4 Seattle, No. 1 Sam Houston and No. 3 Southern Utah en route to the title.

Sophomore guard Ray Harrison had 31 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in the championship game to earn most outstanding player honors. Gabe McGlothan, a 6-7, 235-pound junior forward, added 21 points.

Harrison averages 17.7 points and 3.6 assists. McGlothan contributes 12.8 points and 7.7 rebounds.

“We know they have a guard that runs the show and they have a ‘4’ man that makes a lot of plays for them,” Zags senior guard Rasir Bolton said. “They’re definitely on a hot streak. They’re not coming in just to show face or just be a game we run through them. They’re definitely coming in to try to win. We’ll lean on Roger and Kurt over the next few days to go over film and get more on (their) personnel and more details.”

The West Region is loaded at the top with traditional powers. Top-seeded Kansas is the defending national champion and won the Big 12 regular-season title. No. 2 UCLA (29-5) captured the Pac-12 regular-season title. Fourth-seeded Connecticut (25-8) won its first 14 games, including the Phil Knight Invitational title, to reach No. 2 in the AP poll.

The Gonzaga-Grand Canyon winner will face the winner of No. 6 TCU vs. the winner of the First Four contest between Arizona State and Nevada. The Zags are sixth in the NET rankings, GCU is No. 104. According to the selection committee, the Zags were the 10th overall seed and the Lopes 57th.

Saint Mary’s, which shared the West Coast Conference regular-season title with Gonzaga, is the fifth seed in the West and opens against No. 12 VCU. UCLA will face the winner of No. 10 Boise State-No. 7 Northwestern.

Gonzaga has qualified for 24 consecutive tournaments in Few’s 24 seasons as head coach. The 2020 event was canceled in response to the pandemic, two days after GU earned the WCC’s automatic bid.

Selection Sunday and seeing Gonzaga’s name pop up on the television screen never gets old for Few, especially this season when the Zags were 5-3 in early December and appeared vulnerable.

“There were days we walked out of the gym, all the way back to the Tennessee exhibition or the Texas game and you’re like, there’s some serious doubt creeping in whether the streak will stay alive,” Few said. “I think that’s confusing for all these Zag fans. They come up to me and say they can’t wait till March Madness. I’m like, ‘You have to earn your way into March Madness and we haven’t earned our way in yet.’

“Because of the job all of the teams have done here, there’s this incredible, almost spoiled attitude around here where you’re just going to walk in and win and it’s just not how it goes. I mean you have to fight and scratch and claw and survive, whether it’s injuries or maybe guys not playing up to what we thought they would be. I think we experienced that a lot this year … so I never, ever take this for granted, ever.”

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