Basketball

Gonzaga climbs to No. 1 in polls

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Top NBA prospect Rui Hachimura played a pivotal role in Gonzaga University’s dramatic 89-87 victory over top-ranked Duke University last Wednesday at the Maui Invitational in Lahaina, Hawaii.

Not only did Hachimura, a junior forward, block two shots in the final minute of the game, he also poured in 20 points, corralled seven rebounds and handed out five assists for the Bulldogs, who were ranked No. 3 in The Associated Press Top 25 Poll at the time.

On Monday, Gonzaga (6-0 through the Maui tournament) jumped to No. 1 in this week’s poll. Longtime coach Mark Few’s team received 32 first-place votes and 1,590 total points. Meanwhile, Duke (5-1) slipped to third, getting one first-place vote and 1,486 points.

The Kansas Jayhawks (5-0), who garnered 31 first-place votes, remain at No. 2. Rounding out the top 10 are Virginia at No. 4, followed by Nevada, Tennessee, Michigan, Auburn, Michigan State and Kentucky.

Virginia also received one first-place vote.

In the USA Today/Coaches’ Top 25 Poll, Gonzaga also climbed from No. 3 to the top spot on the same day.

The win over Duke marked the first time that the Zags had defeated a No. 1-ranked team after dropping games against top-ranked foes Cincinnati and Memphis in 1999 and 2008, respectively.

Gonzaga reached No. 1 in the AP poll in the 2016-17 campaign after reeling off 22 straight victories to open the season. In the 2012-13 season, the Bulldogs were No. 1 for the three weeks before the NCAA Tournament.

As his fame continues to rise in college basketball circles, Hachimura, a Toyama native, received the latest West Coast Conference Player of the Week accolade, it was also announced on Monday. In Hawaii, he averaged 22.3 points in three tourney victories and snared 6.0 rebounds. He shot 54.5 percent from the floor.

The Maui Invitational was the ideal place for Hachimura to showcase his talents in the early stages of the season. For the tourney final, 32 scouts from 27 NBA teams were in attendance, CBS Sports reported.

The WCC also honored Hachimura with the weekly award on Nov. 12.

On Monday night, as the nation’s new No. 1, Gonzaga blasted visiting North Dakota State 102-60 in Spokane, Washington. Hachimura shared the team lead in scoring (18 points) in 26 minutes.

This season, he’s averaging 21.9 points and 5.4 rebounds in seven games.

The Bulldogs, meanwhile, are preparing for a Saturday game in Omaha, Nebraska, against Creighton University.

“They are very gifted offensively,” Few said of Creighton, according to AP. “They have a big huge arena with a loyal fan base.”

Gonzaga is coping with injuries as well. Backup guard Geno Crandall (fractured right hand) is expected to miss 4-6 weeks after sustaining the injury in Sunday’s practice. Standout forward Killian Tillie (ankle) is projected to miss another month with his injury, according to published reports.