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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Key matchup: Guard Ray Harrison leads Grand Canyon into March Madness

March 16, 2023 Updated Thu., March 16, 2023 at 7:06 p.m.

DENVER – Grand Canyon sophomore guard Ray Harrison started the season slowly by his standards, averaging just 11.3 points in the first month. That figure climbed to 13.9 by the end of December.

Harrison’s average has soared to 17.7 points after earning Western Athletic Conference Tournament most outstanding player honors last week.

When WAC preseason player of the year Jovan Blacksher Jr. suffered a season-ending ACL injury Jan. 5, Harrison went on a scoring spree, including 28 points that night vs. Sam Houston.

Harrison posted three games with at least 30 points, including a career-best 38 vs. Utah Tech. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound Harrison scored 30 against UT Arlington in the WAC Tournament first round. He hit five 3-pointers and scored 31 points vs. Southern Utah in the championship game.

Harrison, whose WAC Player of the Year candidacy was probably hurt by the Lopes finishing tied for fourth in the standings, has led Grand Canyon in scoring 20 times, and his efficiency has improved as the season progressed.

His 21.2-point scoring average in conference games led the WAC. He made 44.3% of his shots, including 32.4% on 3s, and 75.9% at the free-throw line.

“He’s kind of like the engine of their team,” GU guard Malachi Smith said. “We’ve played a lot of great guards throughout the year, so we don’t have to try to do anything different or spectacular.

“We have to play our game, play solid team defense, and I have all the confidence in the world in our team.”

Harrison didn’t make a 3-pointer in 16 games of 35 games, but he has a solid midrange game and is adept at penetrating and finishing in the paint. He’s had nine games with at least 10 free-throw attempts and 232 on the season, tied for 10th nationally.

Gonzaga’s Drew Timme is 14th nationally with 225 attempts.

Harrison played two seasons at Presbyterian, averaging at least 17 points each year, before transferring to Grand Canyon. He’s listed as a sophomore, but he’s already played in 87 career games.

Harrison’s frame is similar to Loyola Marymount’s Cam Shelton and Saint Mary’s Logan Johnson, both of whom gave Gonzaga’s defense fits at times this season. Gonzaga’s guards, however, have made defensive strides.

Starting guards Rasir Bolton and Nolan Hickman likely will defend Harrison and 6-3 Chance McMillian, who joined the first unit after Blacksher’s injury. Julian Strawther probably will guard freshman Kobe Knox, a 6-5, 195-pound wing who scored a season-high 21 points in a WAC Tournament semifinal win over Sam Houston.

Smith and Hunter Sallis off the bench also will likely see time on Harrison.

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