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Gonzaga Basketball

Gonzaga-GCU matchup is a best- and worst-case scenario for former Gonzaga Prep guard Liam Lloyd

Former Gonzaga Prep guard Liam Lloyd, now at Northern Arizona, embraces Grand Canyon coach Bryce Drew before a game last season.  (Courtesy/Grand Canyon Athletics)

DENVER – A few days before it popped up on a television screen during the hourlong CBS Sports Selection Sunday program, Liam Lloyd considered the possibility of a Gonzaga-Grand Canyon NCAA Tournament matchup.

Most prognosticators had already penciled the Bulldogs in as a No. 3 seed, and the Western Athletic Conference champion Antelopes had conceivably done enough to warrant a No. 14 seed, winning nine of their final 10 games after a run at the conference tournament.

It didn’t seem far-fetched that the NCAA committee would pair the Bulldogs and Antelopes together in a first-round West Region game.

“In my head I was like, ‘That 14-3 matchup might happen, but of course it ended up happening,’ ” Lloyd said earlier this week during a guest appearance on The Spokesman-Review’s Take 22 podcast with former Gonzaga Prep teammate and Gonzaga forward Anton Watson.

It’s a best- and worst-case scenario for Lloyd, a Spokane native who spent his childhood and adolescent years around Gonzaga’s program, befriending some of the Bulldogs’ all-time great players and taking thousands of shots on the baskets at the McCarthey Athletic Center while father Tommy served as a top assistant under coach Mark Few.

Lloyd knew Gonzaga and not much else until he committed to play for Bryce Drew and Grand Canyon in October 2019. The 6-foot-5 guard appeared in 30 games over two seasons in a reserve role for the Antelopes before entering the transfer portal this offseason, eventually signing to play at Northern Arizona, where he started in 27 of 35 games.

“Obviously, it’s great seeing my former teammates playing such a storied program like Gonzaga and something I grew up with, that’s close to my heart,” Lloyd said. “We’ll let fate take its toll on what happens, but I’m excited to see both match up for sure and I’ll definitely be watching.”

Lloyd spent time with former GCU teammates last week after the Antelopes won the WAC Tournament at the Orleans Arena, the venue where Gonzaga claimed a WCC Tournament title just days earlier.

Drew’s group was projected to win the WAC title in the preseason, but that was factoring in production from preseason WAC Player of the Year Jovan Blacksher Jr., who played in just 12 games before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

Watching his old team from afar, Lloyd’s been impressed with Grand Canyon’s resilience through a turbulent season.

“They battled through some injuries and just as far as figuring out their lineups, because they changed lineups a lot this year to figure out what kind of fit and meshed together,” Lloyd said. “Three of the starters were my roommates last year, so I’m just excited to see them succeed.”

Gonzaga is a 15½-point favorite in Friday’s game at Ball Arena and Lloyd figures the Zags will have a fairly big advantage in the frontcourt, where his ex-GCU teammates will be up against his former G-Prep teammate, Watson, and three-time All-American forward Drew Timme.

“Grand Canyon’s obviously going to struggle with the big dogs like Drew and Anton,” Lloyd said. “Especially with the way they play together and the way they pass, so it’ll be interesting to see how they guard Drew down in the post, and how they guard ball screens, and if they try to change it up and run the zone, because I know they’ve done that in the past a little bit when they struggle with matchups.”

Lloyd’s followed the Lopes closely this year, but he still monitors Gonzaga, often trading notes on the Bulldogs with former GU guard Gary Bell Jr., who just wrapped up his first season as an assistant coach at Northern Arizona.

“I think Gonzaga matches up with them very well, so I think it’s a good draw for Gonzaga,” Lloyd said. “But GCU’s playing with house money, you know how March Madness is.”

Lloyd chose not to reveal which team he’ll be pulling for on Friday. When asked if he’ll be donning Zags or Lopes gear, Lloyd deferred.

“To be honest, I’ll probably be wearing an Arizona shirt,” he said. “Of course, I’m cheering for both teams and I’m excited to watch.”

Lloyd, whose season at NAU ended with a loss in the Big Sky Conference championship game, will be following Friday’s Gonzaga-GCU from Sacramento, California. His father and No. 2 Arizona were upset by No. 15 Princeton in their NCAA Tournament opener Thursday at the Golden 1 Center.

Tommy Lloyd’s second season in Tucson culminated with a second Pac-12 Tournament title. The 22-year Gonzaga assistant opened his tenure at Arizona with a 45-5 mark – the second-best record for the first 50 games of a coach’s career in NCAA history.

Lloyd’s surrounded himself with former Gonzaga players, coaches and managers, including center Oumar Ballo, walk-on guard Matthew Lang, and staff members Ken Nakagawa, Riccardo Fois, TJ Benson, Rem Bakamus and Przemek Karnowski.

“It’s awesome to watch, as his son and also as a spectator. It’s something special going on down there,” Liam said. “They have guys like Oumar that I’ve been watching since Oumar was a freshman at Gonzaga. … So it’s awesome to see the coaching tree of Gonzaga succeed and blossom like it always has.”