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Gonzaga rewind: Blocks, dunks and the impact of Killian Tillie’s and Geno Crandall’s return

UPDATED: Sun., Jan. 6, 2019, 6:45 p.m.

Gonzaga’s Killian Tillie smiles while disagreeing with an official over his fifth foul against Santa Clara. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga’s Killian Tillie smiles while disagreeing with an official over his fifth foul against Santa Clara. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Gonzaga filled up the stat sheet in Saturday’s 91-48 win over Santa Clara.

If there was a feel-good column in the box score, the Zags would have stuffed it, too.

It was that kind of night for the seventh-ranked Zags, soon to be No. 5 or No. 6 with Kansas and Nevada absorbing losses.

The return of Geno Crandall and Killian Tillie should make Gonzaga better at both ends of the court, including an offense that was already leading the nation in field-goal percentage and has hit at least 50 percent from the field in 14 of 17 games. (It would be 15 of 17 but the Zags made one of their last three shots in a blowout of Texas A&M, dropping to 49.2).

Rui Hachimura scored a bunch of points, Brandon Clarke swatted a bunch of shots and Josh Perkins dunked. More in the latest Gonzaga rewind.

TILLIE-CRANDALL EFFECT

The Zags were at full strength for the first time. Well, not quite full strength, because Tillie and Crandall will need some time to mesh with teammates and regain their timing and stamina.

Coach Mark Few noted that Crandall is “reaching and poking with one hand, so he’s not all the way back.”

“I did a lot of practices to get ready,” Tillie said of the first game test of his surgically repaired ankle. “I feel like I’m more or less ready.”

They’re going to play significant minutes.

“Geno and Kill deserve to be on the floor a lot,” wing Corey Kispert said. “So we’re all happy to take those minutes cuts, it’s not a big deal for any of us.”

Their presence was felt immediately, from Crandall’s ball-hawking defense to Tillie’s pair of blocked shots. Both provide elements that had been missing.

“Geno’s quick, he’s quick-handed and his feet are quick,” Few said. “He has to be able to change the game when he comes in. That’s what we’re asking him to do, that’s what he’s been showing in practice.

“He’s adept at coming up with steals, that’s another area that we can use. It’s like bringing in a relief pitcher. It kind of changes what they’ve been seeing.”

Crandall, who is comfortable defending point guards or wings, can score, but he’ll probably make more of an impact with his defense and leadership. He brings his outgoing personality to the court and the locker room. Clarke called him “a natural leader.”

“If a different guy subs in and you’re facing a different kind of pressure or length or quickness, it throws their game off a little bit,” Crandall said. “Coach Few likes to have Perk pick up at half court and I come in and pick you up full court. It’s just giving you a different look.”

Tillie is one of the top 3-point shooting bigs in the country. He airballed his first attempt Saturday before swishing a 3 late in the first half. His 37 blocks last season was second to Johnathan Williams’ 40.

Tillie has played in 70 career games, including grabbing nine rebounds in the 2017 national championship game and hitting a pair of free throws in the final seconds to close out South Carolina in the semifinal.

“My experience, I’ve been here three years, I know the program and the conference,” said Tillie, when asked what he brings. “And also some size, and of course 3-point shooting.”

CLARKE SWATTING AT RECORD PACE

Clarke rejected five shots, bringing his season total to 52. He’s blocked at least three shots in 11 games.

He moved into ninth on GU’s single-season list, between Ronny Turiaf’s 49 in 2003 and Austin Daye’s 54 in 2008. Clarke has 15 regular-season games left as he chases Daye’s record of 70 (2009).

Clarke’s athleticism and timing are obvious reasons for his record pace, but there’s also some game-planning involved. He was well positioned when Santa Clara’s Tahj Eaddy and Trey Wertz penetrated the lane.

“I’m just always telling my guys I’m back there if you get beat, it’s fine, really,” Clarke said.

Added Perkins: “I can heat (Eaddy) up a little bit and know no matter what that my boys got my back.”

TOASTING PERKINS’ JAM

Perkins has been credited with a couple of dunks in his career but both received incomplete grades with the eye test. The senior point guard removed all doubt against the Broncos when he rose up and threw down with two hands late in the first half.

“Finally, finally,” Perkins said.

“I don’t what he’s been eating or if he’s been stretching more,” Crandall said, “but he’s gotten a lot more athletic (lately).”

On the ensuing play, Perkins was ahead of the defense again, but floated a pass off the glass to set up a highlight dunk by the trailing Clarke.

“He looked back and said, ‘Backboard, backboard,’ ” Clarke said. “And I was like ‘Yeah, yeah.’ ”

Gonzaga’s Josh Perkins elevates for a dunk during the first half against Santa Clara. (YOUNG KWAK / AP)
Gonzaga’s Josh Perkins elevates for a dunk during the first half against Santa Clara. (YOUNG KWAK / AP)

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