VANCOUVER - Robert Sacre made the most of his rare opportunity to play an NCAA basketball game at home.
The North Vancouver, B.C., native had 16 points and 10 rebounds as the No. 22 Gonzaga Bulldogs beat the Hawaii Rainbows 73-54 in an NCAA basketball game before a crowd of 9,687 at Rogers Arena.
Sacre, a former B.C. high school standout who is in his fourth and final year of collegiate eligibility, 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 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 on the same court the Vancouver Grizzlies used before the NBA team was sold and relocated to Memphis. He previously played on the court in a game for the Canadian team 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), while Kevin Pangos of Newmarket, Ont., had 12 points and was 2-for-3 from three-point range.
Shaquille Stokes led Hawaii (1-1) with a game-high 17 points.
Gonzaga converted 40 per cent of its field goal attempts while connecting on 24 of 60 shots.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few was happy to see Sacre shine in front of his home crowd, adding the centre's strong inside game 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."
"(Sacre) is a big, strong presence," added Hawaii coach Gib Arnold, who was ejected in the second half after taking two technical fouls for criticizing officials. "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."
Sacre is trying not to think of his future as he concentrates on trying to help Gonzaga return to the NCAA Final Four 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," said Arnold. "You'll see him on (the) TNT (television network) next year, because he plays the game right. He plays it physical and he’s a very good basketball player."
Gonzaga led most of the way in the non-conference game, building a 33-27 lead at half-time and pulling away in the second half.
After struggling early, Pangos, who had recorded nine-three pointers in a win over Washington State on Monday, also had a strong outing.
He was held in check for most of the first half and spent 10 minutes on the bench. But he got untracked in the second half as he assisted on a Sam Dower jump shot, sank a jumper of his own and then set up Bell for a three pointer to put the Zags ahead 45-39 and helped them build their lead from there.
"It was a slow first half," said Pangos, who finished with 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 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," said Pangos. "It was pretty cool."
Few, who has a strong relationship with B.C. high school coaches and also has red-shirting 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," said Few.
The coach said Gonzaga will likely play more games in Vancouver in the future. But he wasn't happy with the court’s hard rims that rejected a few dunks that might have normally bounced in.
"It's a tough gym to shoot the ball in," he said.
Notes: Hawaii freshman Stokes earned New York City high school player of the year honours last season. … It was the fourth-ever meeting between Gonza and Hawaii. Gonzaga now has a 3-1 record against the Rainbows..