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Gonzaga Basketball

Key matchup: Lefty bigs Hunter Dickinson, Graham Ike highlight NCAA Tournament matchup between Kansas, Gonzaga

Kansas Jayhawks center Hunter Dickinson (1) takes questions from a horde of media during an open locker room 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)

SALT LAKE CITY – Gonzaga’s first run-in with an All-American post player came at the Maui Invitational, where the Bulldogs squared off against reigning national player of the year Zach Edey and Purdue in an opening-round game.

Had circumstances been different, there could’ve been another such encounter in Honolulu. Gonzaga and Hunter Dickinson-led Kansas were on opposite sides of a loaded Maui bracket in late November, but only saw each other in passing during their time in Hawaii.

Instead, the Zags get to deal with the Jayhawks and their 7-foot star on a larger stage when the teams collide Saturday in an NCAA Tournament Round of 32 matchup at the Delta Center.

Kansas’ rotation has thinned out since losing all-conference wing Kevin McCullar Jr. to a season-ending injury, but those making a case the Jayhawks can still advance to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament will start their argument with Dickinson, who comes off a 19-point, 20-rebound effort in Thursday’s 93-89 win over Samford.

Dickinson’s production in 37 minutes in Kansas’ NCAA opener is more impressive when considering the 7-2 senior dislocated his right shoulder in the Jayhawks’ regular-season finale against Houston, then missed the team’s only game in the Big 12 Tournament – a 72-52 loss to Cincinnati.

The Michigan transfer wore a padded sleeve over his shoulder on Thursday, but didn’t appear to be hindered by the injury, blocking four shots while adding five assists and two steals.

Dickinson was the most coveted player in the transfer portal last offseason after earning AP All-American honorable mention honors with the Wolverines as a junior. He’s scoring 18.0 points per game on 55% shooting while averaging a career-high 11.1 rebounds per game and 1.6 blocks.

Containing the country’s top big men has been a dicey proposition this season for GU. Edey, who was recently named a first-team All-American by the Associated Press, had 25 points and 14 rebounds in a 73-63 Purdue win at the Maui Invitational. Roughly a month later, the Zags surrendered 21 points and eight rebounds to 7-2 UConn sophomore Donovan Clingan, an AP third-team All-American, in a 76-63 loss at Climate Pledge Arena.

“He’s a great player,” Gonzaga’s Graham Ike said. “Biggest difference is he’s left-handed from those other guys. He can stretch it out a little bit. He has a good touch around the rim. Good passer, great feel.”

Dickinson’s production as a senior warranted AP second-team All-America honors and the versatile Kansas center projects to be another monster challenge for Ike, who earned honorable mention All-America honors last week.

“I think (assistant) coach Norm (Roberts) said it best, he’s going to be one of the best big men I’ve faced all year,” Dickinson said of Ike. “He’s one of the best big men in the country. I was able to watch him in a little bit in Hawaii and that gave me a pretty good gauge going into today.

“I feel like we’re pretty similar in a way since we’re both left-handed, we both love to get to our left hand. He’s just a really skilled big, really knows how to use his body and he uses angles to get up and score.”

Gonzaga’s options on Dickinson are fairly limited outside of Ike, but the Bulldogs could turn to 6-10 junior Ben Gregg, or a third resort, 6-10 freshman Braden Huff, if their starting five player finds himself in foul trouble at any point on Saturday.