This isn’t a habit the Zags want to form long term, but give them credit for dealing with it so far.
Already missing forward Killian Tillie, who is out for about seven weeks following ankle surgery, Gonzaga watched forward Rui Hachimura go to the bench with two fouls midway through the first half in a two-point game.
A few minutes later, guard Zach Norvell Jr. took the seat next to Hachimura with three fouls.
No. 3 Gonzaga shook off the absence of two top scorers, opened up a 22-point lead at the break and cruised to a 104-67 victory over Texas Southern in front of 6,000 Saturday night at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
GU’s frontcourt depth is already limited with Tillie’s injury and the departure of center Jacob Larsen, who left the team in fall drills. Add foul issues, and the interior numbers get thin in a hurry. It was Brandon Clarke who missed big chunks of the season opener and exhibition game with early foul trouble. This time it was Hachimura.
They’ve taken turns picking each other up. Hachimura had 33 points in the opener. Clarke went for 19 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks against the Tigers (1-1).
“I came in (at half) and it was, ‘Hey, it’s not pretty out there, but we’re up 22 and two of our GOATs are on bench with foul trouble,’ ” said point guard Josh Perkins, who finished with 19 points and a career-high 11 assists. “Brandon Clarke, he’s something, right? Blocking every shot, running 40 miles an hour down the court.”
Just like the opener when Hachimura dominated Idaho State in the paint, Clarke worked over the Tigers, making 9 of 13 shots from the field and helping GU to a 50-26 advantage in paint points. He had six offensive rebounds as the Zags had a 17-5 edge in second-chance points.
“The coaches definitely wanted us to be more physical and strong, because last game they felt like we weren’t strong enough down low,” Clarke said.
Clarke patrolled the paint, helping deter TSU’s drive-oriented guards and wings with blocks or by contesting shots. He did a nice job on 7-foot-2 center Trayvon Reed, who finished with 14 points, most with the outcome decided.
“I feel like my jumping helps with the lack of height, even though I’m 6-8, he’s 7-2,” Clarke said. “For sure (fouls) is something we have to work on. Those can really hurt us, because we don’t have Killian and we don’t have those extra bigs.”
Three factors carried the Zags when Hachimura and Norvell were on the bench: Clarke, Perkins and they played their best defense yet.
The Zags were hot early, leading 11-3 before the offense stalled. A 4-minute dry spell left GU’s lead at 14-12, and then Hachimura was whistled for a charging foul.
Norvell scored five first-half points before picking up his third foul. Clarke grabbed an offensive rebound and converted, Corey Kispert added five points and Perkins knocked down six free throws as Gonzaga’s lead grew to 37-19.
“There’s weapons in this locker room,” Perkins said. “That’s what is so cool about it. It’s not about any individual. It’s about us.”
Near the end of Gonzaga’s decisive run, Clarke swatted Jalyn Patterson’s shot, retrieved the ball near the end line and passed to a teammate before falling out of bounds.
Clarke took a break from operating inside to hit a 16-foot jumper, pushing Gonzaga’s lead to 44-22.
“He was much better tonight,” said coach Mark Few, whose team entertains Texas A&M on Thursday. “I just told him (in the locker room) that’s the BC we want to see. Sometimes we throw a lot at you with all of our coverages and things that we are doing. He was a little paralyzed by that, but he just kind of cut loose and played tonight, which was a good thing.”
The Tigers had just eight field goals and 24 points in the first half. Patterson, who scored 23 points in an upset of Baylor last Tuesday, was just 2 of 10 in the opening half against Perkins’ defense.
Hachimura finished with 17 points in 20 minutes. Freshman forward Filip Petrusev added 14 points and five rebounds.
“Anytime starters go down, or key pieces go down, somebody else can step up and make plays, like tonight showed,” Norvell said. “We’re probably not the deepest team, but we have a lot of talent in this locker room.”
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