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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga rewind: Killian Tillie eyes possible return for WCC Tournament

March 3, 2019 Updated Sun., March 3, 2019 at 9:16 p.m.

Killian Tillie isn’t a two-sport athlete, but these days he feels like one.

Gonzaga’s junior forward has been working overtime to recover from a partially torn plantar fascia in his right foot. Tillie has spent hours in pools, on treadmills and riding stationary bikes.

“A lot of the bike,” Tillie said following Gonzaga’s 69-55 victory over Saint Mary’s on Saturday. “I almost did the Tour de France on the bike.”

From a nearby locker, point guard Josh Perkins chuckled at the comment. Tillie’s hard work appears to be paying off, as he nears a return after missing the past seven games.

Tillie’s progress leads off the latest Gonzaga rewind.

Tillie improving daily

When Tillie hobbled off the court in pain clutching at his right foot against San Francisco on Feb. 7, there was concern the native of France would miss the rest of the season.

In an ironic twist, Tillie hauled the same crutches and same walking boot out of the closet that he had used last year, following late-October surgery to repair a stress fracture in his right ankle.

Fast-forward to last Thursday in Stockton, California, and Tillie was suited up and going fairly hard in pregame drills. Same thing Saturday in Moraga, California, before the Saint Mary’s game. Tillie knew he wasn’t going to play, but it was another step closer to completing his comeback.

“It feels much better every day,” Tillie said. “I’ve started doing more things on the court. It takes some time to get better, but it’s also (regaining) confidence (in his foot). I’m going to try things on it.”

Tillie missed the first two months of the season after his late October surgery. He’s been sidelined seven games by his latest injury.

Tillie, a preseason conference player of the year candidate, said his goal is to return for the West Coast Conference Tournament in Las Vegas. He’ll have additional healing time, with top-seeded Gonzaga’s first game coming in the semifinals March 11 at the Orleans Arena.

“We’ll shoot for it (WCC Tournament),” said Tillie, who hit 13 of 14 3-point attempts at last year’s tourney. “If not, there’s still the (NCAA) tournament. We have a few weeks ahead of us to get back with the team.”

Rock-solid Rui

Rui Hachimura’s game has come so far in so many areas since he arrived on campus in the fall of 2016, with his feel for the game and reliability catching up with his strength and athleticism.

Hachimura has always made jaw-dropping open-court moves and soaring dunks, dating back to his limited minutes on the 2017 squad. That hasn’t changed, but the bulk of his production is with less glamorous plays – physical drives to draw a foul or absorbing contact and finishing in traffic in the lane.

His totals in the Zags’ two wins last week: 48 points on 18-of-26 shooting, 2 of 3 3-pointers, 6 of 7 free throws, 14 rebounds.

“One of the beauties of him this year is just how consistent he’s been. Night in, night out, you can maybe mark him down for 20 and 8,” coach Mark Few said. “He makes tough shots. It’s great to have a player that can make well-defended shots. He’s one of those guys that can deliver around the basket, or in the midrange, or even shooting the 3 better.

“He’s been much more assertive than in the past. He and Brandon (Clarke) have really learned to play well together.”

Hachimura made just 22.5 percent of his 3-point attempts over his first two seasons. He’s boosted that figure to 46.7 percent this season, second only to Jeremy Jones (50 percent) among Zags in the rotation. Hachimura has only attempted 30 shots from distance – Zach Norvell Jr. leads the team with 221 attempts – but his accuracy has forced opponents to guard him beyond the arc.

“He’s worked very hard on it,” Few said. “The thing about Rui is, he always makes the basketball play. He could take more 3s; he makes the right basketball play. He’ll continue to take a couple every game, but he’s smart enough to know off the drive he’s pretty tough to handle.”

Hachimura has had two games this season with 10 points and two in the 30s. He’s scored at least 16 points in Gonzaga’s past 12 games. He’s had at least six rebounds in 13 of the past 14.

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