Rui Hachimura’s first shot was a successful elbow jumper 38 seconds into the game.
He spent the rest of the night attacking the rim with a variety of power moves. He probably would have joined Gonzaga’s 40-point club had Idaho State kept the score reasonably close.
Hachimura took over in the last 9 minutes of the first half and the first 6 of the second half, guiding the third-ranked Bulldogs to a 120-79 season-opening victory in front of 6,000 Tuesday night at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
“He’s made a big jump,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “He’s being really aggressive. I’ve been on him to own it a little bit more, and I think he’s starting to own it.”
Hachimura certainly owned the Bengals. The Japanese native had 21 points at half, 15 coming rapid-fire as Gonzaga expanded a 26-24 lead into a 23-point bulge. He quickly put up 12 points in the second half before exiting with 13:53 left.
He deflected credit to teammates after shattering his previous career high of 25 points, set against Ohio State in last year’s NCAA Tournament.
“Josh (Perkins) and me were always looking for each other, on the same page,” said Hachimura, who shook off having two of his shots blocked. “I think we only had seven turnovers. Those point guards did a really good job of taking care of the ball. We shared the ball.”
Hachimura’s final figures: 33 points, 25 minutes, 13 of 18 field goals, 7 of 9 free throws, two assists.
“You see he can flat-out score,” said guard Zach Norvell Jr., who has some expertise in that area. “And it’s always good to have teammates behind him that support him. We want to keep feeding him. If he could have got 100 tonight, everybody on the team would have been happy.”
Hachimura had company filling up the stat sheet. Gonzaga scored 60 points in each half en route to the fifth-highest scoring game in program history. It was the Zags’ highest point total in 24 years.
Hachimura’s and Brandon Clarke’s presence inside coupled with shooting ability of the guards puts opponents in a defensive bind.
“If you double-team the post, you kick out and ‘Snacks’ (Norvell) and Perk and I will shoot 30 3s,” sophomore wing Corey Kispert said. “If you one-on-one in the post, Rui will have a night like tonight.”
Norvell scored 19 points by intermission and finished with 23 to go with seven boards. Clarke, despite encountering foul trouble, had 15 points and nine boards. Freshman forward Filip Petrusev, who needed three stitches to close a cut on his forehead, added 12 points.
Kispert drilled four 3-pointers and finished with 14 points, six boards and four assists. The Zags distributed 29 assists, led by Perkins’ eight and Geno Crandall’s six.
“I’m at a point I expect every one to go in,” Kispert said. “A lot of work here, over summer, late at night, getting that (shot) right. I finally feel I’m comfortable to let anything fly and feel good about it.”
The Bengals tested GU’s defense. Brandon Boyd used his speed to generate 13 first-half points, but the Zags also forced the speedy point guard into four turnovers.
Forward Chier Maker, who played at Portland as a freshman, buried two 3-pointers and an off-balance 17-foot jumper just before the buzzer, cutting GU’s lead to 18. Center Kelvin Jones scored 11 points but fouled out in just 13 minutes.
“We made them take some tough shots,” Norvell said. “They were clicking for a minute there in the first half. (The defense) was a little lackadaisical at the beginning, but we got it back together down the stretch.”
At the other end, it was no contest. Gonzaga put foul pressure on the Bengals, resulting in 37 free throws.
“That’s going to be a huge part of our offense, just the way we push, the pace we play at,” Crandall said. “Our post players are so good at getting position, it’s tough for defenders to keep the ball out of the paint.”
Hachimura drove home that point against the Bengals.
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