Every great comeback consists of two parts.
There is the building of a deficit, the mistakes, the shortcomings, whatever goes wrong to build a hill to scramble over. And there is the climb, the slow but sure ascent to victory.
We got to see both in third-ranked Gonzaga’s second-half comeback 91-74 victory over Arizona on Tuesday night in the semifinal of the Maui Invitational.
And we got to watch it all along with ESPN’s Jay Bilas and Dan Schulman, one of the best announcing tandems in college hoops.
What they saw …
• Bilas never misses much, and though he’s willing to inject some humor into the game action, he rarely lets it overpower the game action.
He does a feature most every game called “94 feet with Jay Bilas” in which he walks the length of the court with a player, asking questions the entire way. The one he did Tuesday featured Rui Hachimura and was done, appropriately, on a Maui beach.
It was funny, if only because of the dig at Bilas built around ESPN’s other analyst, Bill Walton.
There were not a lot of laughs concerning Hachimura’s first half, as he picked up two fouls early and sat 9 minutes before intermission.
• Hachimura’s bench time corresponded with Arizona’s first run that helped it build an eight-point halftime lead. The Wildcats built that to 13 early in the second half, giving GU a volcano to climb.
“The pressure was really bothering Gonzaga,” Bilas said as UA, playing its Pack defense, built its lead with Hachimura and point guard Josh Perkins on the bench.
With the senior ballhandler on the bench, the Zags didn’t get anything out of Geno Crandall, nominally the backup point, or Zach Norvell, who fills in as needed.
Of course, Bilas noticed.
“A really poor pass by Crandall,” he said at one point. “He’s coming out there.”
He did. And only played 10 minutes, scoring a single point.
• The biggest eruption? It came from Norvell, who was a big part of the deficit-building by missing his first nine shots. He hit six of his last nine and finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds. But it was Hachimura who led the Zags to the summit, scoring 17 points after halftime and 24 overall. Perkins also added 18 points, nine assists and just three turnovers.
But it was four defensive plays, three blocks and a forced 3-second call from Brandon Clarke that seemed to turn the momentum when Arizona had built the lead to 13. Those plays helped keep the Zags from losing contact.
As is the case in most comeback wins, the GU defense keyed the rally.
• The Zags had 10 turnovers in the first half (and just two in the second), some of them coming off some questionable foul calls.
Clarke, who finished with 18 points and the four blocks, picked up his second foul with 3 minutes left before the half. It was one of a handful of missed calls.
“I don’t like that call,” Bilas said. “That’s a bad call.”
As the replay showed Clarke’s perfect wall-off at the rim, Bilas continued. “Referees get 90 percent of the calls right. That’s in the 10 percent.”
A technical on Arizona’s Chase Jeter also helped the Zags turn the game around midway through the second half, a play which gave GU its first lead of the night.
What we saw …
• Did you know Gonzaga recruits throughout the world? Of course you do. Anyone who has followed the Zags over the years knows it. Or anyone who has watched any game on ESPN since Gonzaga became, you know, Gonzaga.
The network has a package it likes to show whenever GU plays, this year featuring Hachimura over the other Zags from overseas.
Schulman, who is always prepared, relayed the Hachimura story again, mentioning his translation problems as a freshman and the advancements he’s made since.
• The Zags and UA battled over an American recruit last summer, with point guard Brandon Williams finally returning to his original commitment, the Wildcats.
He starts for Arizona, and has been one of its better players.
But not in this one. He did score 15 points, but he was just 3-of-10 shooting, including 1 of 5 beyond the arc. And he only scored four points in the second half. He did, however, hit 6 of 9 free throws as Arizona was 25 of 30.
“The depth of the Zags will really be tested tonight,” Schulman said late in the first half, and he was right.
Jeremy Jones contributed six rebounds in 16 minutes, his second good showing in Hawaii. Filip Petrusev chipped in with four points and three boards.
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