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Grand Canyon relishing its 1st March Madness experience

Grand Canyon Antelopes head coach Bryce Drew is no stranger to the spotlight of March Madness.

His game-winning three-pointer sparked Valparaiso’s run to the Sweet 16 back in 1998.

While Drew has his share of March memories, the self-told stories of the buzzer-beater against Mississippi have become few and far between. Twenty-three years after the infamous bucket, Drew is trying to engineer another Cinderella run for the No. 15 seed Antelopes.

The 2020-21 season marks the first time GCU punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament thanks to the team taking home the WAC Tournament title. While this year’s tournament differs due to COVID-19, the Antelopes are still in awe of the tourney experience.

“It was so cool. We went to the airport and we had this huge plane, and when we got to Indy there were three busses and police patrol,” center Asbjørn Midtgaard told reporters via Zoom on Wednesday. “We got an escort. I think that’s when it hit us. When we got to Indy and saw the March Madness banners, it was unbelievable.”

Saturday at 3:25 p.m., GCU will face the No. 2 seeded Iowa Hawkeyes, who are led by two-time First Team All-American Luka Garza. Midtgaard will be the main Antelope trying to stop the Hawkeyes’ star center.

While the task of guarding one of the countries best players may be a tall one, the 7-footer said he is eager for the challenge.

“I’m going to prepare the same way as I’ve done the whole season,” Midtgaard said. “Obviously he’s a player of the year candidate, we’ve got to have an emphasis on that. He’s an unbelievable player. I’m excited — it’ll be a really fun matchup.”

Even though the Antelopes haven’t been able to interact with family, friends and fans in Indianapolis, the limited distractions have helped keep the team focused on the objective ahead.

“Usually when you practice at home, for a school that’s going for the first time there are many distractions, which are good distractions because it’s an exciting time,” Drew said. “So actually being here in Indy, being in the bubble, it allows you to be a little bit more focused because we’re not allowed to leave. You’re not allowed to go see family or friends, and it really keeps you together.”

Going to the tournament for the first time in program history is something that sophomore guard Jovan Blacksher has relished.

While Blacksher has enjoyed the experience of the tournament, not getting overwhelmed and staying calm has helped keep things in perspective.

“For the season, we haven’t been underdogs, but coming in here we are,” Blacksher said. “We don’t want to let that get to us. We just want to practice what we practice, keep doing what we do and follow our structure and go out there and have fun.”

Doug & Wolf