Gonzaga was tested twice on the road and passed, though not with straight A’s.
Conference rematches tend to be tighter and scrappier than the first meetings, given the level of scouting and fewer mysteries between teams.
Add in Loyola Marymount’s physicality and San Diego’s style of play, and the third-ranked Zags were pushed deep into the second half before securing two of their toughest WCC wins.
“We just had a different mindset, more in attack mode,” wing Zach Norvell Jr. said of the Zags’ second-half effort Saturday in a 79-67 win over San Diego. “They were more of the aggressor in first half.”
More on the road trip in the latest Gonzaga rewind.
Rui Hachimura took his time exiting the court at USD’s Jenny Craig Pavilion. Long after going through the postgame handshake line, Hachimura stood near midcourt and waved to a section of cheering fans in the upper reaches of the arena. He took a few more steps, stopped and acknowledged another pocket of fans on the opposite side of the building.
There were multiple sightings of fans sporting Hachimura’s No. 21 jersey and waving handmade signs to catch the junior forward’s attention. One fan donned a replica of Hachimura’s Japanese national team uniform. Numerous Hachimura uniforms were visible in the crowd Thursday at LMU’s Gersten Pavilion.
“I had no idea (who the fans were),” Hachimura said, “but they had my Japanese name, so I have to show love.”
The contingent covering Hachimura has increased in recent weeks, with additional Japanese print and electronic media at Gonzaga home and road games. Hachimura’s career is a huge story in Japan, with most anticipating he’ll make history as the country’s first first-round NBA Draft pick.
He’s also big news in the U.S. An ESPN E-60 piece on Hachimura is expected to air in March. A Los Angeles Times reporter attended Thursday’s game and is planning a March feature article on Hachimura.
Hachimura has said he wants to concentrate on the rest of Gonzaga’s season before announcing his future plans.
It wasn’t the best week for Gonzaga’s bench. Reserves Geno Crandall, Filip Petrusev and Jeremy Jones were scoreless against San Diego until two Crandall free throws with 52 seconds remaining. The trio combined to play 44 minutes.
Gonzaga reserves were outscored by LMU’s bench, 13-10.
Jones contributed a pair of rebounds and two steals against the Toreros. His ability to switch and guard multiple positions makes him a valuable defender. Crandall had two assists and two turnovers. Petrusev had a couple of nice post moves, but missed his three shot attempts. He gave up a few buckets at the defensive end, which prompted coach Mark Few to quickly sub in Hachimura for Petrusev.
Hachimura, Zach Norvell Jr. and Josh Perkins didn’t leave the court in the second half. The trio combined for 41 of GU’s 49 points.
“I asked (Hachimura) and looked at him and he was all right,” Few said. “We’ve been giving him a blow each half, but Filip struggled when he was in there so we couldn’t really go in that direction.”
Petrusev scored six points in seven minutes versus LMU but he had some defensive lapses.
San Diego did what it always seems to do against Gonzaga the past few seasons. The Toreros slowed the pace by running their extensive volume of sets. They rely on four seniors and they’re not easily ruffled, even after falling behind by double digits in each half.
Gonzaga has won the past four meetings, with margins ranging from an 85-69 victory two weeks ago to a 77-72 slugfest at San Diego last season.
“They use their bodies, they block out like crazy,” Hachimura said. “They’re like, I think, the second-best team in this league.”
Preparing for the Toreros, who sit in sixth place with a 5-7 WCC record, is a nightmare.
“They’re one of the hardest teams for us to play in the league,” Few said. “They’re extremely difficult for us to guard. We spend more time breaking down their stuff than anybody.
“They’re just tough, seniors, strong guys, very competitive, and they do a good job of being in the gaps and making our guys earn it.”
What the Toreros haven’t been able to do is contain Gonzaga’s bigs. Hachimura scored 32 points in this season’s first meeting and 16 in GU’s road win last year. Brandon Clarke averaged 13 points and eight rebounds in two wins. Killian Tillie had 17 points in last year’s five-point win.
USD isn’t alone in that regard: Hachimura and Clarke have scored in double figures in all 27 games.
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