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Thursday, January 23, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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A Grip on Sports: Gonzaga welcomes Killian Tillie back and then leans on him in tight win over Texas Arlington

Gonzaga forwards Corey Kispert  and  Killian Tillie (33) slap hands at the end of a tough 72-66 win over Texas Arlington on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019, at the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga forwards Corey Kispert and Killian Tillie (33) slap hands at the end of a tough 72-66 win over Texas Arlington on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019, at the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Experience matters. It’s as simple as that. It’s why Killian Tillie’s return last night was the difference between the eighth-ranked Zags winning or being upset at home.

•••••••

• Oh sure, you could make that assertion just by reading a box score. Gonzaga won 72-66. Tillie, the senior big making his first start of the season, scored 15 points. Ergo (or is it ipso facto?), subtract 15 from 72 and the Bulldogs lose 66-57.

Uh, no. Other players would have picked up some of the slack. But not all of it. Not against a team like UT Arlington, the Texas-based school making a visit to the Kennel for the second consecutive year.

The Mavericks had a game plan. They executed it well on offense (slow and steady), in transition (send five back to limit GU’s running) and on defense (sag off non-shooters, clog the lane, take away the Zags’ rhythm).

Which is why a veteran like Tillie is so important.

Mark Few understood.

“Believe me – it is universally true,” Few told the S-R’s John Blanchette last night. “The ball moves better. And there’s just so many times in basketball when you call a play and maybe it just goes wrong. (The Mavericks) were doing that all night – switching defenses, jumping up the lanes and playing us on the high side. At that point, you just forget the play and play basketball and there’s nobody better in the country when it comes to that. It’s like having another crafty point guard out there who really understands.”

And a crafty point guard who has seen such antics in the past.

“Killian jumped in with one day of prep after not playing forever and nailed it,” Few added. “And that’s what needs to be passed down to our young guys like Drew (Timme) and Anton (Watson) and Filip (Petrusev) – because, quite frankly, they didn’t nail it. Good lesson for them.”

Ryan Woolridge, the senior transfer who played at North Texas in his other basketball life, has seen it is as well. According to Jim Meehan, UTA used the same tactics last season against him, sagging his defender into the middle of the paint to help on the posts. Maybe that’s why after Woolridge scored the final five points of the first half (giving Gonzaga a much-needed halftime lead), he stared down Arlington head coach Chris Ogden.

It wasn’t well received. Even Few didn’t seem happy about it. But he had to be pleased with how Woolridge responded, scoring 12 second-half points and making some of the game’s biggest plays.

Admon Gilder, another senior transfer guard, also seemed to thrive, defending well, rebounding and scoring 15. He also was one of the few Zags who, you know, actually hit free throws. (Gonzaga was a woeful 16 of 28 in the second half, which made the final score closer than it needed to be.)

So the Zags kept their perfect record intact, their high ranking in place and their home magic safe. In large part, we’re sure, because they also got their biggest of big men back. And their most experienced one.

•••

WSU: It’s not often a true freshman makes an impact on the Washington State defense. And it’s even less often he gets to talk about it. Theo Lawson has this story which began within Tuesday’s interview room. … It’s also rare a defense without a long-term solution at coordinator can attract recruits. But WSU seems to be doing it. Theo has a story on the latest one. … Finally, Theo turns his talents toward basketball, as Kyle Smith talks about the challenge of filling Beasley. Remember, the about 12,000-seat multi-use facility is under the control of the school, not the athletic department, unlike Martin Stadium and other venues. … When Oregon State's Jake Luton was last in the Palouse (fixed from earlier), he was injured in a game at Martin Stadium. He returns this weekend. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, are you tired of night football games yet? Me too. … Where would you like your favorite team to go bowling? Remember, most of them are at night. … Stanford will face California without its top quarterback. It is the year of the backup in most places. … If Washington wants to go to a better bowl, Husky fans have to understand Utah and Oregon must continue to do well. … Even with its struggles, Colorado has seen improvement in some players.  … Utah, and Tyler Huntley, is having a historic season. … Don't expect a quick decision on Clay Helton's future. Nor one on UCLA's new athletic director. … Arizona's AD is up for an extension. … Up and down describes UCLA's quarterback play. … USC is out for revenge. … Special teams have improved at Arizona State. … Arizona's J.J. Taylor is ready to head to the NFL. … In basketball news, the conference has started really well and powerful. … Washington dunked on Maine in winning easily at home last night. … Oregon State has tweaked its offense. … The farther 3-point line isn't bothering Colorado. … USC is 5-0 but the schedule gets tougher soon. … Finally, to paraphrase a famous quote, does the NCAA have no shame?

Gonzaga: We have our usual coverage of the somewhat unusual game, with Jim Meehan supplying the analysis and the three keys to the win, John adding a column, the folks in the office putting together a recap with highlights, Colin Mulvany snapping the photographs and my TV Take. … Around the WCC, second stint is the charm for a BYU player.

EWU: Can the Eagles make the FCS playoffs? The better question is will they? They have to win Saturday and then hope. Ryan Collingwood has more background and history in this story. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, there is no rivalry better than the one between Montana and Montana State. … UC Davis would love to hang a loss on highly ranked Sacramento State. … Weber State falls to sixth in polls heading into Idaho State game. … In basketball news, Montana State dropped a close one. … Weber State won in a rout.

Seahawks: Are the Hawks past the 10 a.m. blues? That's when they play Philadelphia this weekend in a game that was flexed out of Sunday night. … Did Colin Kaepernick really escape a trap?

Mariners: A recently retired player is joining the organization.

Sounders. Seattle lost a backup goalkeeper in the expansion draft.

•••       

• I haven’t had a chance to get over to the Norman Rockwall exhibit at the MAC just yet, but I plan to do it – and soon. I’m sure Rockwell did a painting of a gaggle of old men eating lunch together in a bar. Had to. After all, what could scream Americana more? If not, maybe I’ll have someone take a picture today of the lunch I am attending, run it through Photoshop’s Rockwell filter (there is one, right?), print it out and hang it on the wall next to the painting of the three umpires checking the rain. By the way, that’s my favorite Rockwell. I even used to have it on a tie. Until later …

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