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'Got to stay on our toes... it's March.' Gonzaga's Graham Ike didn't waste time learning about first-round NCAA opponent

Mar. 18—Graham Ike came to post-selection show media availability with a printed stat sheet and a surprising amount of knowledge about Gonzaga's first-round NCAA Tournament opponent, McNeese State, some 30 minutes after pairings were announced live on CBS.

Almost as if he'd been tipped off about the matchup beforehand.

"They're probably going to get up into us, so we've just got to handle that pressure well," Ike said. "I know they get up a lot of 3s. One of the guards is averaging like 18 (points) and five (rebounds). So we'll get a plan on him and see what that looks like. It looks like they're pretty guard heavy."

Minutes after the Bulldogs learned they'd secured a No. 5 seed in the Midwest Region, squaring off against No. 12 McNeese State on Thursday afternoon (4:25 p.m. PT, CBS) at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, Gonzaga Sports Information Director Barrett Henderson supplied Ike with the Cowboys' season box score.

"That's Barry (Henderson)," Ike said. "He's quick with it with his stuff, so yeah he had it ready to go right after they announced it."

Ike got right to work, filtering through McNeese State's results, browsing through individual statistics and identifying the spots where the Cowboys tripped up, or nearly lost. Hint: There weren't many of those. McNeese State enters the NCAA Tournament with a 30-3 record and the Cowboys have won 11 straight games — their last five coming by 16 points or more.

"Looking at close games they've had recently, field goal percentage, who's been shooting the shots, how many attempts they get up," Ike said. "Definitely rebounding and turnovers. B-Mike (assistant coach Brian Michaelson) was telling us before we got in here they like to force turnovers defensively."

When Ike arrived at a podium at GU's Volkar Center for post-selection show interviews, the All-WCC forward continued to skim through the numbers while fielding questions from local reporters.

"We've got to stay on our toes now, it's March," Ike said. "Everything is right in front of us and we've just got to be ready for the next moment. Our staff is doing a great job of preparing us for that and I know the guys are definitely ready for that as well."

One reporter asked Ike what type of challenge he'd encounter from McNeese State's frontcourt players. He had that information at the ready, too.

"No. 5, (Antavion) Callum and (Christian) Shumate," Ike said, naming the forwards who've made 65 combined starts for Will Wade's team this season. "Shumate's a little bit of an undersized four man. I remember playing him at McNeese a couple years ago when I was at Wyoming."

In 2021-22, one year before Wade took over the program in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Ike's Wyoming team hosted McNeese State during nonconference play. Ike had an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double to help the Mountain West Cowboys prevail, 79-58, against the Southland Conference Cowboys. Shumate is the only active McNeese State player who appeared in that game, supplying a team-high 12 points and team-high eight rebounds off the bench.

"Some of these other dudes, I'm not really familiar with," Ike said.

Other Gonzaga players weren't quite up to speed on the scouting report when they met with media Sunday afternoon, but planned to dive into McNeese State film later that night.

They weren't surprised to hear Ike had already conducted his own study, though.

"That sounds like Graham, a student of the game for sure," junior forward Ben Gregg said. "I just saw their record. They only lost three games, which is impressive in its own. I looked at who they played and they beat some good teams.

"Haven't looked too much at individual stats, but I know our coaches will be working around the clock right now to get the film and scout ready for us. So we're watching film tonight and the rest of the week and get a better understanding of what we've got coming."

Ike, who's averaging 16.5 points and 7.2 rebounds for Gonzaga, watched last year's NCAA Tournament from home while recovering from a foot fracture and hasn't appeared in the Big Dance since his 2021-22 season at Wyoming, when the Cowboys lost to Indiana in a First Four game.

"It feels surreal almost, to be back here in this opportunity and in this space with these people," Ike said. "This is what every kid dreams of and to get back here is great. Honestly I don't really count my First Four, I don't feel like I was all the way in and I lost. To be here now, it's on and popping honestly. I'm loving where we're at."