Thursday’s Gonzaga-Central Washington exhibition game was nirvana, if you enjoy free throws.
The Zags put up 46 freebies, making 29. As one might expect, the steady sound of whistles made finding offensive rhythm a challenge in third-ranked Gonzaga’s 108-69 rout in front of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Gonzaga exploited size and athletic advantages inside, which prompted many of the whistles. Junior forwards Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke piled up points (41) and made repeated trips to the free-throw line (18 of 22).
“Playing versus a Division II team, usually the players are a bit shorter than you and weaker,” Clarke said. “That kind of makes you want to go at them more.”
Hachimura opened each half with a scoring flurry. Clarke cleaned up on the offensive glass and matched Hachimura with one end-to-end drive for a layup.
The Zags posted 50 points in the paint but still found time to run the floor, with a 22-0 edge in fastbreak points and a 20-11 advantage in points off turnovers.
“I thought we pushed the ball really well,” said sophomore wing Corey Kispert, who had two 3-pointers, 10 points and five rebounds. “We also found Rui and BC in the post a lot. That’s what we want to do. It’s kind of a staple of our offense.”
Hachimura put the visitors in an early hole, scoring the first eight points in the opening 95 seconds. The Zags stretched the lead to 18-3, but the smooth start gave way to a choppy stretch cluttered with turnovers, errant shooting and fouls.
The Wildcats weren’t the only ones having their uniform numbers reported to the scorer’s table. CWU was in the bonus with nearly 9 minutes left in the half. The Wildcats failed to take advantage, making 4 of 10 at the line.
The Zags attempted 46 free throws and Michigan State 41 in last Saturday’s closed scrimmage.
“Every year everybody is so amped up on the points of emphasis,” GU coach Mark Few said. “It seems like we go through this every year, and everybody just adjusts after a while.”
The teams combined for 52 fouls. Of particular concern, with marquee games coming later this month, were the fouls on GU’s frontcourt, which will be without junior forward Killian Tillie (ankle surgery) for eight weeks. Clarke picked up his third with 18:35 left in the second half. Freshman Filip Petrusev had three fouls in 7 second-half minutes and fouled out.
“Not playing in a game in a year and half, I have to get that feel back how to play without fouling,” said Clarke, who sat out last season after transferring from San Jose State. “Once I get that back, it’ll be fine. Obviously, our bigs can’t foul because we don’t have that much backup help.”
Still, the Zags breezed, leading by as many as 40 points. As expected at this early stage, they have a lengthy to-do list.
They committed 24 fouls. Josh Perkins was tagged with a technical foul, an exhibition rarity. The Zags made just 63 percent of their free throws. They lost track of perimeter shooters at times in the second half. CWU was 1 of 12 from distance in the opening half and 7 of 16 in the closing half.
“You play these undersized teams, they’re going to spread you out and shoot 3s,” said Few, whose team opens the regular season against Idaho State on Tuesday. “We did a good job especially in the first half, probably not as good in the second. Obviously, that’s a big key, not only for us, but in this day and age people are utilizing the 3 line so much, we have to do a better job.”
Hachimura finished with 23 points in 20 minutes. North Dakota grad transfer Geno Crandall made a nice debut with eight points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals.
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