SAN FRANCISCO – At times, it looked like Gonzaga and San Francisco had advance copies of each other’s game plans.
The fifth-ranked Zags and Dons put on a show Saturday night, playing to their strengths and adjusting on the fly with shrewd counter moves. Gonzaga’s 96-83 victory was packed with high drama, low turnovers and surgical execution.
More in the latest Gonzaga rewind.
San Francisco impresses
Gonzaga (certainly) and USF (likely) are the WCC’s top teams and the difference between the two was razor thin before the Zags’ 17-2 closing kick.
Third-year Dons coach Kyle Smith has shown he can build a program, develop players and X & O. A Bay Area columnist suggested Smith could be in line if California makes a coaching change.
“They’re the same team as last year and we’re kind of the same,” said Zags forward Rui Hachimura, who scored 21 points. “We know what each other are going to do. Our scouting report was crazy and their scouting was good, too.”
The Dons (14-3) possess many of the same traits as Saint Mary’s, which makes sense considering Smith was Randy Bennett’s assistant for nine seasons. They’re not flashy but Frankie Ferrari and company are a handful coming off ball screens and pounding the offensive glass. They defend and rebound at a high level.
The Dons offered another reminder of what Gonzaga needs to shore up – defense and rebounding – if it plans on making a deep run in March.
“Frankie was having one of those magical halves on us,” coach Mark Few said. “We tried multiple coverages and Kyle was adjusting perfectly to every one, but we had some guys step up and make some big plays.
“Geno (Crandall) came in and used his quickness to chase (Ferrari) around. Brandon (Clarke) and Rui were going up to contest shots and our guards weren’t doing a good job of choking down and digging out rebounds. We finally secured that.”
Added Zach Norvell Jr. “They’re really well-coached. Frankie’s been doing a good job leading that team. I’m pretty sure Coach (Few) wasn’t excited about how we let them in on all the rebounds. That’s something we need to correct and correct it fast.”
Ferrari scored 15 of his 21 points in the second half.
Tillie takes step forward
Killian Tillie isn’t all the way back. That’s going to take some time after missing two months following ankle surgery, but he showed more of his 2018 form in his third game of 2019.
The junior forward sparked the Zags in the first half with two 3-pointers, two tip-ins, 12 points, five rebounds, two blocks and a pretty high-low feed to Clarke for a dunk.
“The first games were a little tough, but it helped me to go easier this game,” Tillie said. “We weren’t going to the offensive glass a lot so I tried to go in and get some tip-ins, and I also made some outside shots.”
Tillie fouled out for the second time in three games but his three blocks helped slow USF’s interior attack. His 6-foot-10 frame matched up better against the Dons’ 7-foot Jimbo Lull and 6-9 Matt McCarthy.
“He really scored it well for such a short period of time,” Few said. “He’s still trying to get his legs under him; I think that’s affecting his defense. He got put into a couple of tough situations there, but man, his production per minute was exactly what we needed and what he’s capable of doing.”
Crandall comes through
Crandall, like Tillie, is three games into his return from an injury (broken right hand). His stats – three points, three boards, two assists, 16 minutes – weren’t off the charts but he impacted the outcome, particularly during the Zags’ strong finish.
His lone field goal was one of the game’s biggest. He connected on a 3-pointer about 40 seconds after Norvell’s 3 to give Gonzaga an 87-81 lead with 2:13 remaining. Crandall may get more opportunities beyond the arc if future opponents follow USF’s approach.
“I think they were maybe saying we can take an extra step off him,” said Crandall, who has struggled from distance this season but made 41.7 percent at North Dakota as a junior. “That’s a shot all the guys have confidence in me making and I’ve got confidence in me making. Some may not have dropped through this year but that’s a shot I’m completely comfortable taking.”
Asked if he was more pleased with the clutch shot or his defensive effort on Ferrari, Crandall didn’t hesitate.
“Definitely the defensive stuff,” he said. “It’s kind of my role on this team and I’ve really embraced it. He made a lot of tough shots, credit to him, but my job is to just make it tougher on him.”
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