Big 3 of Julian Strawther, Anton Watson and Drew Timme lead Gonzaga past Grand Canyon
March 17, 2023 Updated Fri., March 17, 2023 at 9:30 p.m.
Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Drew Timme (2) reacts after defeating the Grand Canyon Antelopes during the second half of a first round NCAA Basketball Tournament game on Friday, March 17, 2023, at Ball Arena in Denver, Colo. Gonzaga won the game 82-70. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
DENVER – Drew Timme, Julian Strawther and Anton Watson have been Gonzaga’s “Big 3” most of the season and nothing changed in the NCAA Tournament.
That order has shuffled more often over the past two months, and that’s made the Zags tougher to deal with for opponents.
Strawther and Watson carried third-seeded Gonzaga through first-half rough patches and all three delivered in the closing half as the Zags handled No. 14 Grand Canyon 82-70 Friday at Ball Arena.
Gonzaga (29-5) claimed its 14th consecutive first-round victory and advanced to face sixth-seeded TCU (22-12) on Sunday.
It’s no coincidence that the threesome has the most experience on the team in a Zags uniform and in March Madness.
“Obviously, I was struggling in the first half,” said Timme, the three-time All-American forward. “I couldn’t get in a rhythm and (Watson) and Julian kind of took the ship. I got comfortable in the second half and joined the party.”
There were more nerves than party favors for the Zags in the opening half as Grand Canyon heated up after a chilly start. The Lopes (24-12) led by as many as seven before the Zags, led by Strawther and Watson, changed the direction of the half and eventually the game.
“These guys know, I feel like I’ve been (called) a microwave scorer – a guy that can get a lot of baskets in a short amount of time,” Strawther said. “When things are going downhill and the defense is playing so hard on Drew like that, I don’t have much of an option but to get really aggressive on offense.”
Strawther, scored eight of his 16 first-half points as the Zags closed with a 19-8 spurt to take a 40-36 lead at halftime.
“Definitely the tale of two halves,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “Grand Canyon really did a great job of dictating the kind of the game in the first half. As I walked into the locker room, Drew was talking to the guys about, ‘Hey, now the jitters are out of the way, now we’ve got to play.’
“We just kind of reinforced that at halftime. And certainly for that first 15 minutes of the second half, we got back to playing the way we’ve been playing this last month or so.”
GU ratted off 16 unanswered points to take a commanding 64-42 lead midway through the second half. Not surprisingly Strawther, Watson and Timme, with some help from GU’s guard line, were the catalysts.
Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Julian Strawther (0) reacts during the second half of a first round NCAA Basketball Tournament game on Friday, March 17, 2023, at Ball Arena in Denver, Colo. Gonzaga won the game 82-70. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
“What gets lost even in a game like this is just the absolute calming influence that Anton has on our team,” Few said. “He’s the glue that holds our whole defense together. He is always in there on offensive rebounds, getting us extra possessions. When we needed a basket, he had a big floater and he goes for a double-double.
“I think sometimes he gets lost; he’s kind of quiet and unassuming. Down the stretch of this run, I think these two (Strawther and Timme) would agree with me, he’s been our MVP.”
The combined stat line for Strawther, Watson and Timme: 63 points, 27 rebounds, 23 of 37 from the field, 5 of 9 on 3-pointers, 12 of 15 at the foul line, seven assists, six blocks, three steals and three assists.
Strawther totaled 28 points and 10 rebounds. Watson added 14 points and 11 boards. Timme scored 15 of his 21 points in the second half. Timme and Watson each had a team-high three assists.
“It was definitely a security code,” Hickman said of the trio. “These guys just bring so much to the game, and it makes my job so much easier just to find the open one.”
Gonzaga’s defense contributed its best stretch as the Zags pulled away in the second half. Grand Canyon went scoreless for 6 minutes and 37 seconds, missing 11 consecutive shots, as GU’s lead grew to 22 points.
“We just locked in and just told ourselves to keep getting stops,” Watson said. “Some of their guys kept getting hot in the first half and started hitting 3s. We eliminated some of those 3s in the second half. The offense started flowing and that’s when we made our big run.”
Grand Canyon’s main offensive weapon, guard Ray Harrison, finished with 20 points, but 12 came after Gonzaga built a 22-point advantage. He made just 8 of 19 shots from the field. Forward Gabe McGlothan finished with 11 points, nearly two under his average.
The Lopes had made at least 50% of their shots in each of the past six games, but they finished at 43% against the Zags.
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