P.J. Carlesimo has seen a lot of basketball in his life.
From the National Invitational Tournament, which his father used to run, to his time as a college and NBA coach, he probably has seen most everything.
Except for, maybe, a player from Japan scoring a crucial basket over a player from Germany in a West Coast Conference game in San Diego.
That bucket, Rui Hachimura’s 3-footer over Cameron Neubauer with 2 minutes, 9 seconds left, gave Gonzaga what turned out to be an insurmountable five-point lead in their 77-72 road win Thursday night in San Diego.
And it allowed Carlesimo, the analyst on ESPN2’s broadcast, to express his admiration for the Gonzaga sophomore once again.
“That’s a tough bucket,” Carlesimo said just before Hachimura pulled down a defensive rebound in traffic.
“Guess who?” was Carlesimo’s response.
The answer would be Hachimura time and again down the stretch for sixth-ranked Gonzaga as they held off the pesky Toreros before 4,772 – including two soon-to-be high NFL draft picks, USC’s Sam Darnold and Wyoming’s Josh Allen – at Jenny Craig Pavilion.
What they saw …
Just before Hachimura’s closing flurry – he scored half of his 16 points in the final 4 minutes – Carlesimo alerted the viewers whom to watch as the game wound down.
“I love Hachimura late in games,” the former coach said, mentioning not just his scoring ability around the hoop but his rebounding and his ability to hit free throws – Hachimura was perfect on eight attempts and is shooting 83 percent from the line on the season.
And Hachimura came through not only for Gonzaga, helping the Zags raise their record to 26-4 and 16-1 in West Coast Conference play, but for Carlesimo as well.
The Zags actually trailed in this one – as Kanoa Leahey pointed out, Gonzaga had not trailed in its last three games – after the first two possessions. They also trailed at halftime and trailed by as many as eight in the second half.
But Leahey, who works out of Hawaii, had done his homework.
“Gonzaga has made it a trend to finish games strong,” he said after the Zags held San Diego scoreless for more than 6 minutes and took a 52-51 lead on Killian Tillie’s 3-pointer with 10 minutes left.
“Guess who just bolted in front?” Leahey said. And Carlesimo knew why.
Throughout the first half, as Gonzaga’s offense struggled – the Zags shot 37 percent before halftime – Carlesimo kept pointing at its defense as needing more shoring up. It didn’t make sense until the second half, when the Bulldogs went into shutdown mode and the defense led to better offense.
“When they finally got the defense going,” Carlesimo said after Gonzaga had built the late lead, “it made it difficult for San Diego to score.”
San Diego (17-12, 8-9) shot just 34 percent in the second half and 41 percent overall.
What we saw …
The game was disjointed from the opening tip, and there was a reason, one that Carlesimo kept pointing out.
An overabundance of whistles.
The officiating crew of Mike Reed, Randy McCall and D.G. Nelson called 43 fouls, many Carlesimo did not agree with.
When Corey Kispert was called for one midway through the second half, Carlesimo said “I didn’t see the foul right there.”
When Tillie, who had 17 points and six rebounds, flew out of the picture on a San Diego offensive rebound, Carlesimo said USD “might have gotten away with a little push.”
When Josh Perkins was stripped by Olin Carter III with 38 seconds left and San Diego trailing by just four but was saved when Nelson called a foul instead, Carlesimo described it thus: “That’s all ball.”
And it wasn’t just the officials who came in for some blunt criticism from Carlesimo.
Zach Norvell struggled – he finished with four turnovers, just one rebound and 7 points on 2-of-10 shooting – and Leahey described it as a “bad night.”
Carlesimo was having none of it.
“That’s not a tough night,” he said after reciting Norvell’s statistics, “that’s a disaster.”
Just like the game nearly was for Gonzaga. Until Carlesimo’s favorite player stepped up.
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