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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

‘It’s time, can’t babysit you no more’: Motivated Julian Strawther delivering on big stage

March 18, 2023 Updated Sat., March 18, 2023 at 9:50 p.m.

Julian Strawther watches as his 3-pointer drops Friday during Gonzaga’s win over Grand Canyon in Denver.  (By Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Julian Strawther watches as his 3-pointer drops Friday during Gonzaga’s win over Grand Canyon in Denver. (By Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

DENVER – Everywhere Julian Strawther looks, he sees another source of motivation.

Topping the list is the NCAA Tournament – the current one and last year’s disappointing exit in the Sweet 16 – and teammates and head coach Mark Few pushing Strawther to reach his considerable potential at both ends of the floor.

As it often does, additional drive sprouts after an athlete comes up short of expectations on a bigger stage. Strawther has experienced the inevitable highs and lows in sports, but he’s navigated through the growing pains to become a better, more complete player.

Strawther’s 28 points, three 3-pointers, 10 rebounds and two blocked shots in Friday’s 82-70 first-round victory over Grand Canyon were roughly a year in the making. The amiable junior wing from Las Vegas didn’t sugarcoat his performance review from last year’s tournament.

“I feel like last year in March Madness, I struggled really bad,” Strawther said. “It was rough for me, and I feel like that’s been weighing on me since that loss to Arkansas specifically.

“So I’ve been waiting to get back to March Madness and to be able play on this platform and just prove myself.”

Strawther certainly wasn’t the only Zag to struggle in the 74-68 Sweet 16 loss to the Razorbacks, but his came after subpar efforts against Georgia State and Memphis.

He was 0 of 9 on 3-pointers and scored just 9 points, nearly three points below his per-game average, in those two victories. He scored 12 points against Arkansas but made just 1 of 5 3s.

Against Grand Canyon, Strawther played with the force and confidence that has been a steady companion in the past few months as he assumed more of an alpha role.

“The guys halfway through the year or so kind of told me, ‘It’s time, can’t baby sit you no more,’ ” Strawther said. “They’ve helped me get through some rough slumps.”

The results are obvious. He’s hiked his scoring average to 15.5 points with a reliable floater and 42.9% accuracy on 3s. He’s averaging a career best 6.1 rebounds and he’s improved his defense.

He’s had three 28-point efforts and a 26-pointer in GU’s past nine games, all victories.

His present motivation is obvious, too. No, it’s not about impressing NBA scouts with his natural scoring ability. Strawther declared for the draft last year before returning for his junior season. He’s shown demonstrable improvement.

“Especially right now, being here and seeing all the March Madness signs, that’s the last thing on my mind,” said Strawther, when asked about his postseason plans. “I’m just so ready to play. I’m so excited.”

He’s driven to make a return trip to Las Vegas for the West Regional next week. To get to Strawther’s old stamping grounds, the Zags need a victory over sixth-seeded TCU on Sunday night in the round of 32.

Strawther has celebrated three West Coast Conference Tournament titles at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. The West Regional will be held at T-Mobile.

“Vegas man,” Strawther said about an hour after the Zags learned on Selection Sunday they were the No. 3 seed in the West. “Yeah, I obviously don’t want to get too excited or jump too far ahead of ourselves, but it definitely would be an amazing opportunity for me and a full-circle moment just to be able to play at home in the NCAA Tournament.”

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