VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP)—Robert Sacre made the most of his rare opportunity to play an NCAA basketball game at home.
It was a rare appearance in Vancouver for Sacre, a former British Columbia high school star who is in his final season with the Bulldogs. He is projected as a first- or second-round NBA draft choice and also figures prominently in Canada’s rebuilding national team program.
The 22-year-old center wanted to show the crowd how much he has improved since he was a teen.
“I was just happy to be on my dream court, where I’ve always wanted to play,” Sacre said. “When I was a little kid, this is where I’ve always wanted to be and this is where I’ve always wanted to play.”
The game was played before a crowd of 9,687 at Rogers Arena, home of the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks. It was the same court the Vancouver Grizzlies used before the NBA team was sold and relocated to Memphis.
Sacre previously played on that floor in a game for Canada against China.
“It was awesome to be just on the Grizzlies’ court again,” he said. “Vancouver needs (NBA) basketball in this city. It was a bit different to play in front of a crowd that I know everybody. But I treated it just like another game. I did everything like it was another game.”
Gary Bell had 14 points for Gonzaga (3-0) and another Bulldogs player from Canada, Kevin Pangos of Newmarket, Ontario, added 12.
Shaquille Stokes led Hawaii (1-1) with 17 points.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few was happy to see Sacre shine in front of his home crowd, adding his strong play inside helped the Bulldogs grind out a win in a tough, physical game.
“He’s done that throughout his career,” Few said. “He’s unbelievably sound with the way he posts. He posts the right way. He shows his numbers and he’s just a big, strong guy to get around. He wears people out.”
Pangos got untracked in the second half as he assisted on Sam Dower’s jump shot, sank a jumper of his own and then set up Bell for a 3 to put the Zags ahead 45-39.
Stokes responded by making a 3-pointer and two foul shots to pull Hawaii within one, but Bell nailed a 3 and Sacre sank a jumper to give Gonzaga a 50-44 advantage
“(Sacre) is a big, strong presence,” said Hawaii coach Gib Arnold, who was ejected in the second half. “It’s hard to play against a 35-year-old man out there. He looks like he’s a 12-year NBA veteran. I’d like to see his birth certificate.”
Gonzaga then went on a 15-8 surge to go up 65-52. Arnold was ejected with just more than 4 minutes left after receiving his second technical for berating officials. Pangos sank both technical free throws to give the Bulldogs a 16-point advantage.
Gonzaga led most of the way, building a 33-27 lead at halftime before pulling away in the second half.
Sacre is trying not to think about his future as he concentrates on helping Gonzaga return to the NCAA tournament. But Arnold figures it’s just a matter of time before Sacre is playing in the NBA.
“He’s a first-round draft pick,” Arnold said. “You’ll see him on TNT next year because he plays the game right. He plays it physical and he’s a very good basketball player.”
Pangos, who had nine 3-pointers in a win over Washington State on Monday, earned a loud cheer as he sank an early 3. But he was held in check for most of the first half, spending 10 minutes on the bench.
“It was a slow first half,” said Pangos, who had three assists and four rebounds. “But I tried to tell myself in the second half and tried to change my mentality.”
The 18-year-old freshman, who has been described as a young Steve Nash and appears ticketed for a long tenure with the Canadian national team, played in front of his mother Patty, his aunt and a friend of his father Bill, who is the longtime coach of the York University women’s team.
“It was nice to be hearing the national anthem,” Pangos said. “It was pretty cool.”
Few, who has a strong relationship with area high school coaches and also has another player from Canada, redshirting junior Kelly Olynyk, in his program, said the Bulldogs took a chance by playing a neutral-site game on the West Coast, but suggested he wanted to give Sacre a chance to play at home.
“He means everything to our program,” Few said.
The coach said Gonzaga will likely play more games in Vancouver in the future, but he wasn’t happy with the hard rims.
“It’s a tough gym to shoot the ball in,” he said.
Notes: Stokes earned New York City high school player of the year honors last season. … It was the fourth meeting between Gonzaga and Hawaii. Gonzaga is 3-1 against the Rainbows.