Senior forward Killian Tillie is the most experienced Zag with 99 career games. Senior guard Admon Gilder has the most collegiate experience with 119 contests – 98 at Texas A&M, his previous address.
They’re playing like it. More importantly, they’re playing like a pair that have taken major strides physically, something that was missing mid-season.
They showed as much during a sequence of plays late in the second half of Gonzaga’s 92-69 victory over BYU on Saturday. On one, the 6-foot-10 Tillie switched onto TJ Haws, stayed in front of BYU’s crafty point guard and forced an errant pass. The Zags fed Gilder on the break and he raced in for a power slam, ignoring defender Jake Toolson’s presence in the paint.
Tillie next switched onto the 6-5 Toolson, who drove and misfired badly on a contested bank shot. A short time later, Tillie was double-teamed on an entry pass, leaving Gilder uncovered behind the 3-point line. Pass, swish, ovation.
Gilder, battling a balky knee, lost his starting job in early December to Joel Ayayi, who has had a breakout season. Gilder has strung together five straight double-digit scoring games while recording 10 of his 24 steals.
“We’re a different team with him,” coach Mark Few said. “We need him to be that kind of athlete, that kind of assertive finisher. Combine that with the way he’s shooting the 3 that makes him a really tough guard, not just in our ball-screen action but in any (isolated) or throw-ahead situations.
“It’s big (because) he was playing really down on the floor a lot, grounded, not being very assertive, so hopefully we can keep building on this.”
Tillie’s knee surgery and a sprained ankle hindered him in nonconference, causing him to miss six of 15 games. He’s been bouncier and more active in six WCC contests. He logged a season-high 34 minutes against BYU and was making plays deep into the second half.
Tillie is going to see additional minutes because Gonzaga is without Anton Watson (shoulder surgery). Leading scorer Filip Petrusev sprained his ankle against BYU and status isn’t known for Saturday’s home game against Pacific.
“If you can keep Killian on the floor he’s going to get numbers,” Few said.
Gilder is showing some of the explosiveness he displayed at Texas A&M and when he had six consecutive double-figures scoring games to open this season. His production and playing time slipped after he limped off the court early in the second half of the Southern Miss game in the Bahamas.
Through the ups and downs, Gilder has put in nonstop effort to improve the condition of his knee.
“I’ve just been working on the main things that I need for my body and at the end of the day, I just feel like I’m enjoying it,” Gilder said. “I feel so great, best I’ve felt in a while. When I’m healthy I know what type of Admon I can give. That’s what you saw (vs. BYU).”
At both ends of the court. Gilder was solid when the Zags switched, whether he was facing speedy guards or sizable bigs. Gilder averaged 1.3 steals per game against SEC competition for the Aggies.
“When he plays like that we are hard to beat,” Tillie said. “He’s strong and when he uses it, that’s when he’s even better. When he puts his shoulder on you, you can’t move.”
Two-thirds through the regular season, virtually every player in college basketball is dealing with a certain amount of wear and tear. Tillie declines to say he’s 100% healthy, noting he’s “getting there” before chiding himself for missing a dunk, leaving out the fact elevation wasn’t the issue.
Tillie has grabbed 10 boards twice in the last four games – his first time with double-digit boards since late in the 2018 regular season. Tillie opened his freshman season with 19 rebounds in the first two games and closed it with nine boards against North Carolina in the championship contest.
“He’s playing great basketball,” Gilder said. “Everybody knows when he’s healthy what he’s capable of doing.”
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