There was no Geno Crandall yet, but there was a lot of Jeremy Jones and Rui Hachimura in Gonzaga’s 89-54 blowout of CSU Bakersfield on Monday night.
Those three Zags are the topics of the latest Gonzaga rewind.
Along came Jones
Jones doesn’t know when or how much he’ll play coming off Gonzaga’s bench, but the senior forward always seems to be ready when coaches call his name.
He rescued the Zags against Illinois in Maui with a clutch relief effort – 14 points and 11 rebounds against the Illini’s defensive pressure. The Roadrunners had a similar defensive plan, and Jones produced similar numbers (11 points, 10 rebounds and two assists).
Jones was prepared when asked about his, well, preparedness.
“I mean, the $50,000 scholarship they pay a year, so you have to be ready to go into the game,” said Jones, who played 29 minutes, his longest stint since his freshman season at Rice. “You have to stay ready, so you don’t have to get ready, that’s what I say.”
His role, and that of a few others, could change when Crandall and Killian Tillie return to the rotation, but Jones has proven to be dependable and adaptable.
“He was definitely a guy that solved a lot of issues for us,” coach Mark Few said. “He’s mature enough and tough enough that when we need a guy to come in do some of the tough things, maybe not the pretty things, he can do that.
“He’s versatile enough that we can let him handle the ball a little bit, but he can also switch and guard bigs and perimeters. That helps in a game like that, when they’re undersized and trying to attack off the bounce.”
Crandall in 2019
No, that’s not a campaign slogan, but Crandall’s return from a fractured hand that kept him sidelined nine games should officially end Saturday when the Zags open WCC play against Santa Clara.
It could have ended Monday, but the Zags chose to be cautious. Part of the reason was CSU Bakersfield’s physical style of play. The Roadrunners crashed the offensive boards and didn’t shy away from contact en route to committing 23 fouls.
“I think Coach Few was better safe than sorry, that was his idea coming in,” Crandall said. “We knew coming in they were a scrappy team.”
Crandall obviously wanted to play but understood the coaching staff’s decision. He was cleared at a doctor’s appointment earlier Monday and went through pre-game drills.
“Hopefully I get to go in Saturday,” the grad transfer from North Dakota said. “I get a couple of practices in full speed and contact and I’ll be ready to contribute for the rest of league play.”
Gonzaga has missed Crandall, who brings experience, ball-handling, defense and scoring. He said he doesn’t need any protection on his right (shooting) hand, but plans to wear a soft pad and wrap,, with his fingers taped.
Rui’s big efforts
Hachimura is Gonzaga’s leading scorer (21.2 points per game). He makes 59 percent of his shots from the field, 45 percent beyond the 3-point line and 73 percent at the foul line. He seems to make one or two coast-to-coast excursions for a bucket every game.
Those numbers and his sturdy, athletic, 6-foot-8, 230-pound frame have Hachimura projected in the first round of NBA mock drafts.
It’s easy to overlook the fact that Hachimura has been working his tail off defensively in recent games.
“That’s a fair statement, and something we definitely need and are asking from him,” Few said. “I think it’s just an understanding sometimes, and then we’re playing him heavy minutes (30.2 per game). Now when we get Killian back, I think we’ll be able to convince him to play 4, 6, 8-minute stretches, and we’ll rest him.
“I don’t want to sing songs here, but we’re making some progress.”
Tillie, who had ankle surgery in late October, could make his season debut as early as Saturday.
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