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Gonzaga rewind: Minutes adding up for starters with shorter rotation

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 6, 2018

Gonzaga dug out an 81-79 win over Washington on Wednesday as Rui Hachimura added to his player of the year candidacy with the winning basket.

Hachimura played all 40 minutes and still had enough in the gas tank to bury the deciding shot over the outstretched arm of 6-foot-11 Sam Timmins.

Our latest rewind looks at the Zags’ offense and defense – both ranged from strong to subpar against the Huskies – and the extended minutes logged by starters on an injury-shortened roster.

Iron men

The Zags are without Killian Tillie (ankle) and Geno Crandall (hand) for roughly the next month and the minutes are starting to add up for their primary players. It wasn’t a factor in Crandall’s first missed game, a blowout over North Dakota State, but as expected, it’s been a different story in tight contests.

Josh Perkins never left the floor against Washington. He only left the floor for 4 minutes against Creighton in the first half because he picked up two fouls. Zach Norvell Jr. played 39 minutes vs. the Bluejays and 34 against the Huskies, even with foul issues. Corey Kispert averaged 31 minutes in the last two games after averaging 28 in the first seven.

The frontcourt has more depth with freshman Filip Petrusev and senior Jeremy Jones, who also sees time at wing. Hachimura, who logged 37 minutes and hit the go-ahead basket against Duke in Maui, has played at least 30 minutes in six of the last seven games. Brandon Clarke played a season-high 35 minutes against Creighton.

The Zags are in a taxing, prolonged stretch against high-level competition, and they’re not done yet. They had nail-biters against Illinois, Duke and Washington, and a shootout versus Creighton.

They have two major tests coming up against No. 7 Tennessee on Sunday in Phoenix and No. 14 North Carolina on Dec. 15 in Chapel Hill.

“Obviously, when it’s Washington and Gonzaga there’s going to be a lot of emotion to the game,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “I thought we were a little flat in (Tuesday’s) practice. We’ve had a lot of emotional games, and obviously some big ones coming, but we responded when we needed to. That’s what we have to do.”

Zoning in and out

Washington’s unique 2-3 zone has been a headache for every opponent on its schedule except Auburn.

“It’s just a different game when it’s 40 minutes (of zone),” Few said. “You just don’t deal with that. It’s different every time down the floor, it adjusts, it’s long, sometimes they pressure the wing and sometimes they don’t.”

The Zags put up decent numbers, despite registering a season-low in points, but endured a couple of sluggish stretches.

The first came at the outset of the second half as UW rattled off a 15-2 run to take a 45-42 lead. Gonzaga had two turnovers and made one of its first 11 shots to open the half. The Zags weren’t able to convert on any of five offensive boards in that span.

Hachimura and Clarke were effective with 36 points and 18 rebounds, but they also missed a number of close-range shots against Washington’s frontcourt. The duo made 13 of 31 field-goal attempts. Both shot below 50 percent for the first time this season.

“It changes the flow, really,” Clarke said of the zone. “Just shots I definitely should have made but I missed. It’s OK, I’ll just make them next game.”

Gonzaga had three empty possessions in the final 90 seconds as Washington pulled even at 79 before Hachimura’s clutch midrange jumper.

Defense slips

Gonzaga’s defense was probably a bigger concern than its offense, particularly in the second half.

It didn’t start out that way. Gonzaga limited the Huskies to 30 first-half points. UW’s eight turnovers created an 11-1 edge in points off turnovers and it was no coincidence that Gonzaga led by 10 at the break.

Washington put up a season-high 49 points in the final 20 minutes on 55-percent shooting.

Jaylen Nowell hit two 3-pointers and finished strong drives with floaters or layups. Matisse Thybulle did roughly the same thing, nailing three 3-pointers and scoring a season-high 18 points. Noah Dickerson’s playing time was limited by foul trouble, but he managed 13 points in 26 minutes.

“We gave them easy shots, we let the zone dictate how fast we were going,” Perkins said. “We missed some easy shots we usually make. Defensively, we just broke down. Those are things we can fix.”

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