TV Take: With Killian Tillie up and running, ESPN’s Dick Vitale claims Gonzaga likely his pick to win NCAA Tournament
March 11, 2019 Updated Mon., March 11, 2019 at 10:37 p.m.
It’s been awhile since Gonzaga has played a game. Even longer for the Zags’ Killian Tillie.
Yet, Monday night in Las Vegas, it seemed as if they had played, say, Saturday.
But it was their opponent, Pepperdine, who had played that day, the third time in three days in a West Coast Conference Tournament semifinal run by the eighth-seeded Waves.
And that’s where the run ended, with Gonzaga winning easily, 100-74, before a pro-Gonzaga Orleans Arena crowd and the ESPN broadcast crew of Dick Vitale, his play-by-play partner Bob Wischusen and Sean Farnham, working the sidelines.
What they saw …
• As has been the case in WCC play this season, they saw a blowout that was decided by halftime.
“This has been traditionally the Gonzaga Invitational,” is how Wischusen described the WCC Tournament when the game began on ESPNews. (The lead-in ESPN game, Wofford’s NCAA Tournament-clinching win over UNC Greensboro, rolled into the 6 p.m. hour.)
When ESPN joined the game, it was still tight, but a typical Gonzaga run – 17-2 over some six minutes – put it away before intermission.
That allowed Vitale, Farnham and Wischusen to discuss multiple storylines other than the game.
• One discussion they had came courtesy of Killian Tillie’s return to the court.
Tillie was injured against San Francisco in early February, after playing just nine games due to an earlier injury.
When he was last playing a big role against WCC competition, he was draining 3-pointers in this tournament last season. In front of Vitale and Wischusen.
As Vitale said, “nothing’s changed.”
Tillie hit his first 3-point attempt at the 12:55 mark, in the midst of GU’s deciding run.
“Killian Tillie loves it in the Orleans Arena,” Wischusen said.
A little over a minute later Tillie hit another 3-pointer.
“Don’t leave him alone, not in the Orleans Arena,” Wischusen added.
Tillie made one more first-half 3-pointer and finished with nine points. But his return meant more than just statistics.
“I’m so happy to get him on the court,” Mark Few told Farnham before halftime.
• Another subject was the upcoming NCAA Tournament and Gonzaga’s place in it.
Vitale, for one, believes the Zags will … well, here’s what he said: “I think the Zags will be my choice to win the national championship.”
To be fair, this was Vitale’s second time this season he’s seen the Bulldogs in person. The other one came in Chapel Hill, during the Zags’ 103-90 loss to North Carolina in mid-December.
He said he still felt, even in defeat, the Zags were going to be among the nation’s best all season.
They have been. And, Vitale, who some may forget once coached in college and the NBA, explained why.
He touched on their nation-leading offense. He spoke about their defense. And he talked chemistry. He is enamored with GU’s penchant for sharing the ball and how that leads to togetherness throughout the game.
• With the tournament in Las Vegas, as usual, ESPN decided to use a slot machine graphic to explain the WCC awards.
There was a time gambling and college sports were kept not just at arm’s length, but Kareem Abdul-Jabbar arm’s length. Not anymore.
For the record, the three Zags shown in the graphic were Rui Hachimura (MVP), Brandon Clarke (Newcomer of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year) and Few (Coach of the Year).
Gonzaga and Pepperdine vie for a loose ball during the first half of a WCC men’s semifinal basketball game on Monday, March 11, 2019, at The Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
What we saw …
• To Vitale’s point about sharing the ball, Gonzaga (30-2) had three players with five or more assists: Geno Crandall and Josh Perkins (six each) and Clarke (five).
But to get assists, you have to score baskets. The Zags did, with all five starters in double figures, led by Zach Norvell Jr.’s 18 points.
The passing – GU ended with 26 assists – led to 60-percent shooting. That included 11 of 23 from beyond the arc.
• Farnham, who usually sits in the analyst’s chair, did a nice job on the sideline, though there were some glitches with his microphone throughout the game.
The most interesting statement he shared with the viewers came right out of halftime as he explained what the Zags were trying to accomplish after intermission. It didn’t concern the 16-18 Waves.
After going over Gonzaga’s list of to-do items, he added, “They are building toward Minnesota,” Farnham said, referring to the site of this year’s Final Four, “they are not building for Las Vegas.”
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