Slow-starting Gonzaga finally started playing like a title contender, then wore out Grand Canyon 82-70 behind 28 points and 10 rebounds from Julian Strawther in the NCAA Tournament Friday.
Zags senior Drew Timme brought his sweatband and handlebar mustache back to March Madness and finished with 21 points, six rebounds and three blocks for the third-seeded Bulldogs (29-5), who haven't lost a first-round game in the tournament since 2008.
Next up for Gonzaga is a game Sunday against the winner of a West Region contest between TCU and Arizona State.
Like almost every Zag outside of Strawther, Timme was bottled up and frustrated in the first half, then came out of halftime and looked like a different player. After trailing by as many as seven, Timme's three-point play gave Gonzaga a 48-40 lead early in the second half.
Drew Timme of the Gonzaga Bulldogs dunks the ball against the Grand Canyon Antelopes during the second half in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Ball Arena March 17, 2023, in Denver, Colo. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Grand Canyon's Ray Harrison answered with a driving layup on the next possession. After that, Gonzaga went on a 16-0 run during which the 14th-seeded Lopes (24-12), champions of the Western Athletic Conference, missed 11 straight shots and fell behind by 22.
With the game a laugher, the rowdy Grand Canyon fans, who for a while had reason to dream about an upset of their own, had a chance to turn their attention to the end of No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson's shocker over No. 1 Purdue playing on the big screen above the court.
But there was no upset in Denver.
Drew Timme (2) of the Gonzaga Bulldogs huddles with teammates prior to the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Ball Arena March 17, 2023, in Denver, Colo. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Harrison led Grand Canyon with 20 points, and Chance McMillian had 16. Noah Baumann (eight points) made a pair of 3s during a 12-4 stretch that helped the Lopes to their seven-point lead in the first half.
Strawther, who decided to return to Gonzaga for his junior season instead of heading to the pros, kept Gonzaga in it early. He scored 16 of his 28 in the first half.
The second half was more of a team effort for Gonzaga, which also got 14 points and 11 rebounds from Anton Watson.
In the end, the game was a lot like Gonzaga’s season — slow start, better as things kept going and a chance to do more. The Bulldogs had their 75-game home winning streak snapped in January, and this marked the first time since 2018 they came into the tournament as anything other than a No. 1 seed.
Drew Timme (2) of the Gonzaga Bulldogs reacts against the Grand Canyon Antelopes during the first half in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Ball Arena March 17, 2023, in Denver, Colo. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Harrison led Grand Canyon, a fifth seed in the WAC tournament, to four straight wins and the March Madness bid by becoming the first Division I player to collect 80 points, 20 rebounds and 20 assists in a conference tournament since Kemba Walker (Big East) in 2011. On Friday, though, Harrison was bottled up. He needed 19 shots to get his 20 points and finished with two rebounds and three assists.
With his dad, LaPhonso Ellis, sitting in the stands, Walter Ellis had nine points before fouling out for Grand Canyon. LaPhonso Ellis, the former Notre Dame star, played in Denver for the Nuggets from 1992-98.