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Gonzaga Basketball

Gonzaga-Kansas notes: Former Santa Clara forward Parker Braun gained insight on Zags during four WCC meeting

Kansas Jayhawks forward Parker Braun (23) watches an ongoing basketball game while nursing his foot on Friday, Mar 22, 2024, before Kansas’ NCAA basketball tournament second round matchup against Gonzaga at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.  (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
By Theo Lawson and Jim Meehan The Spokesman-Review

SALT LAKE CITY – Call it bad timing on Parker Braun’s part.

The Kansas forward acknowledged Friday his personal record against Gonzaga wasn’t especially strong during a two-year stint at West Coast Conference rival Santa Clara.

“They’ve been very good, I saw it for two years,” Braun said. “I think I’m 0-5 against them.”

Fact check: Braun was only 0-4 against Gonzaga during his brief stint with the Broncos, but it’s understandable if four felt like five, considering the Bulldogs’ margin of victory was 13.4 points during that stretch and the forward’s first encounter with the WCC powerhouse was a 115-83 GU shellacking at the Leavey Center in Santa Clara, California.

Had Braun stuck around one more season, the veteran forward would’ve been part a rare win for the Broncos in their longtime series with the Bulldogs.

Santa Clara snapped a 26-game losing streak on Jan. 12, holding off Gonzaga for a 77-76 victory at the Leavey Center. The Broncos’ last win over the Bulldogs came during the 2010-11 season, six years before Herb Sendek was appointed Santa Clara’s coach and 11 years before Braun transferred to the school from Missouri.

“I did watch that game, it was fun to watch,” Braun forward said. “It was on ESPN and everything. Obviously, still love the coaches and the program there. I had a great time there, got my degree from there so it was fun to finally see them climb that mountain.”

Braun scored in double figures twice against Gonzaga and posted a 12-point, 11-rebound double-double on Jan. 7, 2023, when the Broncos were on the verge of upsetting the ninth-ranked Bulldogs before Nolan Hickman hit a go-ahead 3-pointer inside the final 90 seconds.

“They’re obviously talented through and through, that’s kind of what they’ve been,” Braun said. “Their record broke this year or whatever, they were in the Top 25 for like 150 weeks or something like that.”

Braun’s playing time has been spotty for the Jayhawks this year. The fifth-year senior averages only 7.4 minutes off the bench. He got on the floor for 2 minutes in Kansas’ dramatic 93-89 NCAA Tournament victory over Samford in Salt Lake City.

It’s unclear what Braun’s role will look like against Gonzaga, but his most important assist on Saturday may be helping with the Jayhawks’ game plan and lending insight on a team with which he’s intimately familiar.

The Bulldogs have changed since Braun’s last encounter, but they return two frontcourt players, Anton Watson and Ben Gregg, who matched up with the former Santa Clara forward four times over the last two seasons.

“I think they’ve just grown as players since I last played them,” Braun said. “With experience I think you get a little more savvy … Hopefully, I can give whatever tips and tricks I can to guard them.”

Braun’s older brother, Christian, was part of Kansas’ national championship run in 2022 before being selected by the Denver Nuggets with the 21st overall pick of the NBA draft.

Denver’s first-round pick the following year? Gonzaga wing Julian Strawther.

Happy birthday, times two

Gonzaga coach Mark Few and Kansas counterpart Bill Self share the same birthdate: Dec. 27, 1962.

“Mark and I go back a long time,” Self said. “We were actually born on the very same day. That’s the one pleasantry we exchange every year, it’s ‘Happy Birthday.’ “

Yes, but who was born earlier on that day, Few was asked by an intrepid reporter.

“How can you even think of stuff like that?” Few responded. “I have no idea.”

Late night, early start

Kansas players and coaches filed out of the Delta Center a few minutes after midnight on Thursday following their 93-89 victory over Samford, so the Jayhawks weren’t thrilled to learn about the tipoff time on Saturday against Gonzaga.

Kansas and Gonzaga are playing one of the earlier games on Saturday, tipping off at 12:15 p.m. in Salt Lake City, shortly after a 9:45 a.m. game between Arizona and Dayton.

“The one-day breaks in between are always tough, but this is a little extreme, I think, to get out of here at midnight and play that soon the next day,” Self said. “It’s hard. It’s going to be difficult for everybody. Arizona is playing 2½ hours before us. Their wake-up call will be at 7 or whatever time.”