Makai Mason’s Baylor Bears face tough test in Gonzaga

  • Gonzaga forward Killian Tillie (33) dunks between Fairleigh Dickinson's Elyjah Williams (21) and Kaleb Bishop (12) during the second half of a first-round game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament Thursday, March 21, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer) Rick Bowmer

  • Baylor guard Makai Mason, of Greenfield, drives during Thursday’s 78-69 victory over Syracuse. Rick Bowmer

  • Baylor guard Makai Mason, of Greenfield, celebrates his team’s 78-69 victory over Syracuse in a first-round game in the NCAA Tournament Thursday in Salt Lake City. AP

Associated Press
Published: 3/22/2019 8:33:06 PM

SALT LAKE CITY — Gonzaga forward Killian Tillie returned from a foot injury in January, only to injure it again.

The Zags were a bit more aggressive with Tillie’s rehab the second time around and it seems to have paid off.

Playing fast and free, Tillie was superb in top-seeded Gonzaga’s blowout win over Fairleigh Dickinson on Thursday night in the NCAA Tournament’s West Region.

The 6-foot-10 Frenchman scored 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting in the Zags’ opener and proved he’s feeling good with a dunk over two Fairleigh Dickinson defenders that brought his teammates to their feet.

“He’s actually moving better than when he came back in January because he was in a no weight-bearing (situation) and his legs weren’t quite there, Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “This last time we were able to kind of do more things in his recovery, so he’s moving better and has a little bit more pop.”

Gonzaga (31-3) is going to need that pop in its second-round game against Baylor, led by Greenfield’s Makai Mason, on Saturday.

The Zags faced a tired and overmatched team in Fairleigh Dickinson, which had a short turnaround after winning its First Four game in Dayton on Tuesday. Gonzaga jumped on the Knights from the start and had the game pretty much out of reach long before halftime in the 87-49 victory.

Baylor (20-13) will be a much bigger challenge, on both ends of the court.

The ninth-seeded Bears shot their way over and past Syracuse’s vaunted zone in their opener, hitting a school NCAA Tournament-record 16 3-pointers in the 79-68 win.

Baylor had a few lapses defensively against the Orange, but plays a 1-3-1 zone that’s difficult to prepare for, particularly with the quick turnaround that comes with playing in the NCAA Tournament.

“The fact that we play zone helped us in this game, being able to go against that and practice every day with our guys flying around,” said Mason, who had 22 points against Syracuse. “We are used to those shots, kick-out 3s.”

STOPPING HACHIMURA

A big part of Baylor’s defensive scheme will revolve around stopping Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura. The Zags have plenty of weapons, but the Japanese big man is the most dangerous.

Able to play in the post, beat defenders off the dribble or knock down shots with his superb mid-range game, Hachimura leads Gonzaga with 20.1 points per game and shoots 61 percent. He’s also a 47 percent shooter from 3-point range.

“Someone said can you describe his game to someone. I said, ‘Yeah, it’s a lot of guys I see playing in the NBA,’” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “With his size, his power, his skill set, he’s a real tough matchup.”

Hachimura had 21 points and eight rebounds against Fairleigh Dickinson.

GONZAGA DOES EXIST

Yes, Jimmy Kimmel, Gonzaga really does exist.

We think.

A reporter brought the late-night comedian’s bit about whether the Spokane, Washington, campus is for real straight to coach Mark Few on Friday.

On a recent show, Kimmel called March Madness the time of year that brings together “63 real (teams) and one from a made-up college called Gonzaga. It’s like eggnog. You hear about it once a year, then for 50 weeks, it disappears,” Kimmel said.

Because it’s nowhere near a major media market, and because its enrollment is only around 5,200, Gonzaga is, in fact, easy to miss.

But Few batted down any conspiracy theory.

Sort of.

“As long as they are talking about Gonzaga and the program, I think that’s probably a really, really good thing,” Few said.

But, back to the question: Does it really exist?

“I’m not going to go down the road on some silly little deal,” Few said. “But as long as he’s having fun with it, he can have fun with it.”


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