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Gonzaga basketball opens with exhibition game against Central Washington

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 31, 2018, 7:35 p.m.

Gonzaga’s first game-type glimpse at its lineup without Killian Tillie came in last Saturday’s closed scrimmage against No. 10 Michigan State.

The third-ranked Zags edged the Spartans 52-46 and 58-46 in separate halves.

Gonzaga’s fan base gets its first look Thursday in an exhibition game against Central Washington at the McCarthey Athletic Center. Gonzaga has roughed up exhibition opponents over the last 11 years, winning by an average of 37 points.

That list includes last season when Tillie made all 11 of his shots and scored 28 points in a rout of College of Idaho. Gonzaga announced Tuesday that Tillie will miss about eight weeks following surgery on a stress fracture in his ankle.

One of Gonzaga’s objectives against the NCAA Division II Wildcats will be exploring lineup and rotation combinations with Tillie on the sidelines. The 6-foot-10 forward from France is GU’s top returning scorer (12.9 points) and most accurate 3-point shooter (career 48 percent).

San Jose State transfer Brandon Clarke likely moves into the starting five, joining junior forward Rui Hachimura in the frontcourt. Freshman forward Filip Petrusev, a promising newcomer, is in line for additional playing time and senior Jeremy Jones assumes the role as the fourth big.

The probable starters, according to a Gonzaga release, are Hachimura, Clarke, senior point guard Josh Perkins and sophomore wings Zach Norvell Jr. and Corey Kispert. In that scenario, graduate transfer Geno Crandall, who arrived on campus less than three weeks ago, figures to be the first guard off the bench.

Hachimura (19 points), Clarke (14) and Petrusev (11) combined for 44 points against the Spartans.

Central Washington first-year coach Brandon Rinta has connections to the Inland Northwest, serving as an assistant from 2001-06 at Eastern Washington under Ray Giacoletti and Mike Burns before guiding Lewis-Clark State College to a 164-62 record as head coach the last seven seasons.

“It’s definitely getting baptized by fire with the first game against one of the best teams in the country, but our guys are definitely excited for the challenge and environment,” Rinta said. “I know it’s an exhibition game, but I’ve got to think they’re excited and Spokane is excited to get the season started.”

Rinta has revamped the roster at his alma mater, bringing in four freshmen, three junior college transfers and two transfers from four-year schools. Guard Malik Montoya and forward Malcolm Cola return for the Wildcats, who were picked to finish eighth in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference preseason poll.

Senior guard Naim Ladd, a preseason All-GNAC selection, has been limited after having foot surgery. Shadle Park High product Andreas Brown, a 6-4 guard/forward, is competing for time after redshirting last season.

“We’re not going to be the biggest team,” Rinta said. “Our strength will probably be playing up-tempo and being able to space the floor with a four-guard lineup. Hopefully, we’ll be tough to guard and be able to defend and rebound with our size.”

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