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Gonzaga rewind: Rui Hachimura executes game plan to return for Senior Night

UPDATED: Sun., March 1, 2020

Former Zag Rui Hachimura makes a surprise return during Senior Night on Saturday. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Former Zag Rui Hachimura makes a surprise return during Senior Night on Saturday. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Rui Hachimura kept Gonzaga’s Senior Night in the back of his mind, even as he did countless media interviews and prepared for his first NBA season with the Washington Wizards.

But he needed a little cooperation from Gonzaga’s and Washington’s schedules to make it happen.

“Actually a long time,” Hachimura said of the planning that led to his surprise appearance Saturday night at the McCarthey Athletic Center for the Zags’ 86-76 victory over Saint Mary’s. “Last summer I’d just think about it, that it would be cool because I was supposed to be a senior. We found out the schedule and it actually kind of worked.”

The NBA schedule released in August fit perfectly with Washington visiting Utah on Friday and Golden State on Sunday, and with GU’s Senior Night in between on Saturday.

Hachimura and senior Killian Tillie were part of the same recruiting class and teammates for three years.

“He knew, yeah,” said Hachimura, who spent some time with the players prior to tipoff. “He’s my guy, my brother. I talked to him – is it OK to come here? – because it’s his night, you know. I didn’t want to bother him, but he was cool.”

Hachimura said the NBA “lifestyle is crazy. In college we have two games a week. (In the NBA) we almost play every day, we’re on a plane always. I’m never home, but it’s cool.”

Hachimura and former Gonzaga frontcourt mate Brandon Clarke joined forces on the World Team for the Rising Stars game during All-Star weekend in mid-February. Hachimura has lined up against several former Zags, including Clarke, Domantas Sabonis and Kelly Olynyk.

“It was fun to play with BC (Clarke) and all the other guys,” Hachimura said.

Hachimura’s former Gonzaga teammate Johnathan Williams played in 11 Wizards games when Hachimura was recovering from a groin injury. Williams has played in 14 games with Washington’s G League squad.

Kispert comes through

Corey Kispert has hit some of Gonzaga’s biggest shots this season. Nothing changed Saturday – or Thursday, for that matter.

The junior wing scored 13 of his 16 points in the first half to help the sluggish Zags open up a 12-point lead against San Diego on Thursday. He was strong in both halves against the Gaels and finished with 20 points.

“He’s not finding many openings, but when he does find them he’s making shots,” head coach Mark Few said. “Thursday night he got us through that (first half) and again in this one because we weren’t playing very good offense that first 15 minutes.”

Kispert is shooting 44.3% on 3-pointers, which would rank ninth nationally but for some reason is not listed on the NCAA stats website.

“Coach Few kind of bases all his coaching on what you’ve done,” Kispert said. “I’ve shot it well enough that he’s kind of given me a longer leash every game to take more challenging shots, take them earlier in the clock.

“But you have to have that mindset every time you go on the floor the next shot is going in, whether you’re hot or missing everything. He’s preached that to me since I got here.”

Gaels put up a fight

Saint Mary’s made changes at both ends of the floor after absorbing a 30-point loss to Gonzaga three weeks ago. Beyond X’s and O’s, the biggest difference was the Gaels’ level of intensity and physicality.

Saint Mary’s was in attack mode from the tip, getting interior points via post-ups and dribble penetration that were largely absent in the first meeting. The Gaels were much more aggressive defensively, hounding Gonzaga into 14 turnovers.

Both teams finished with 46 paint points.

“The ball screen coverage we used last time, they made an adjustment and were hurting us with it so we had to switch our coverage,” Few said. “That helped us, especially late in the second half.

“Saint Mary’s had us on our heels with the shots they were making. They were really jamming us in the gaps and kind of raking us. It took a while to settle in and figure out where we could find our openings.”

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