Braun gets another chance at Gonzaga, this time with Jayhawks

Kansas forward Parker Braun (23) stuffs a shot from Samford forward Achor Achor (14) during the second half at Delta Center on Thursday, March 21, 2024 in Salt Lake City. Photo by Nick Krug

Salt Lake City — Kansas’ backup center Parker Braun, a former Santa Clara Bronco, had the pleasure of watching from afar as his alma mater defeated Gonzaga earlier this season.

“Obviously still love the coaches and the program there, had a great time there, got my degree from there, so it was fun to see them finally climb that mountain,” Braun said Friday.

“Finally” because Santa Clara had previously played the Bulldogs 26 straight times in the course of 13 years without a victory.

That included four losses during Braun’s two-season tenure in Silicon Valley, in which he averaged 7.3 points and 4.8 rebounds, a depth of experience that at least until recently made him Kansas’ foremost expert on the Zags. Now he’s hoping his new team can earn just one key NCAA Tournament win against them.

“Hopefully we can get them now when it matters,” he said.

Gonzaga’s past two teams, which made it to the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, respectively, featured some of the same personnel that will now take on KU, including guard Nolan Hickman and forwards Ben Gregg and Anton Watson.

“I think that they’ve just grown as players since I last played them,” Braun said. “Obviously with experience you get a little more, maybe, savvy, I think is the word to say it. But they’ve just gotten better as players, and I’m excited to finally take (them on) kind of full strength, and hopefully I can get whatever tips and tricks I can to guard them.”

He said he’s been particularly impressed over the years with the Bulldogs’ well-rounded rosters.

“Even if you take one guy away, they always have to have a next guy ready to step up and make that next play,” he said. “That’s kind of what makes them super dangerous throughout the years.

“They’ve had (Drew) Timme and Chet (Holmgren) and all those guys when I was there (at Santa Clara). You can’t just game plan to take one guy out of the game. You got to kind of pick your poison and hope one guy has an off night.”

It’s much the same for this year’s Gonzaga squad as not just Gregg, Hickman and Watson, but also Braden Huff, Graham Ike and Ryan Nembhard, are threats on the offensive end, with Hunter Dickinson and Bill Self agreeing that Ike is one of the best post players Dickinson (and Braun) will have to face all year.

Braun’s not the only Jayhawk with past experience against Gonzaga.

Point guard Dajuan Harris Jr., following his redshirt year, played his first-ever collegiate game against the then-top-ranked Bulldogs on Nov. 26, 2020, in Fort Myers, Florida.

Asked on Friday, nearly four full seasons later, what he remembered about that first appearance — he played three minutes and didn’t record a stat — Harris replied, “That they ran us out the gym.”

Indeed, the Bulldogs scored 102 points in that game, one of just 12 occasions on which KU has allowed triple-digit scoring, and beat KU by 12.

“Didn’t they make it to the Final Four?” Harris recalled (indeed, they were national runners-up). “That was a really good team, though.”

Kevin McCullar Jr. also has one game against Gonzaga to his name, a 14-point, 10-rebound double-double in a 69-55 loss on Dec. 18, 2021, when he was still at Texas Tech.

“I just remember really our main emphasis was stopping them in transition,” McCullar recalled. “How fast they played and got out and ran, and how physical they were … They matched the energy very well.”

Much like Braun’s memories of Gonzaga’s veteran players, this observation of McCullar’s still holds relevance today; this season’s Bulldogs are 19th in the nation in fast-break points with 14.42.

McCullar won’t be able to play Saturday or for the remainder of the tournament due to injury.

Braun, who played just two minutes against Samford on Thursday, has been dealing with an injured ankle of his own since the start of the month, but Self said he’s doing fine.

“You know, he hasn’t been healthy since he turned his ankle,” Self said. “That’s been about two or three weeks ago. But I think he’s moved better in practice the last couple of days. So, yeah, there’s no limitations on him.”

He’ll get a chance to take on some familiar faces at the Delta Center Saturday.


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.