A contingent of Japanese media made the trip to Las Vegas to follow Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura, a sophomore forward from Toyama, Japan.
But it was a different international Gonzaga player who stood out Monday in the top-seeded Bulldogs’ dominant 88-60 victory over No. 4 seed San Francisco in the semifinals of the West Coast Conference tournament before an announced crowd of 8,296 at Orleans Arena.
The Bulldogs will play in their 21st consecutive WCC final on Tuesday against No. 3 seed Brigham Young.
Killian Tillie’s near-perfect stat line from the field and game-high 26 points might convince a few more French reporters to fly out for Gonzaga’s latest March run.
“It would still be less (reporters) than Rui because Rui is crazy in Japan,” said Tillie, the sophomore forward from Cagnes-sur-Mer, on the French Riviera.
Tillie had a memorable 20th birthday after shooting 10 of 11 from the field, 5 of 5 from 3-point range and made his lone free-throw attempt. Tillie started out 9 for 9 and didn’t miss his first shot until the 11:10 mark of the second half.
That lone miss bothered the Frenchman.
“Just saw it,” Tillie said after glancing at the stat sheet. “I’m mad, but it’s OK.”
Tillie’s hot shooting and Hachimura’s spark off the bench helped the Bulldogs build a comfortable lead. Gonzaga went up by as many as 33 points and coach Mark Few emptied his bench with six minutes left.
Hachimura scored 17 points and Zach Norvell Jr. contributed 14 points. Johnathan Williams recorded 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“It’s great to advance to another final,” said Few, who has led Gonzaga to five straight WCC tournament titles. “It’s an unbelievable streak we have going here. They’re never easy.”
Like Hachimura this season, Tillie was the Bulldogs’ seceret weapon off the bench a year ago when the team made it to the national title game.
Tillie said last year’s NCAA Tournament experience helped him for his first season as a starter.
“It was a little hard at the beginning,” Tillie said. “I wasn’t being consistent and now I’m doing that. I’ve never really been in a rhythm like this. It’s fun to be like that, with every time you shoot it goes in.”
The last time the Bulldogs, the No. 6 team in the nation, weren’t in the WCC final was in 1997 when Saint Mary’s defeated San Francisco for the conference crown.
Few admitted that it’s tough to keep the team motivated during the conference tournament.
“It’s not easy when everybody is telling them that (they belong in the WCC final),” Few said. “People will book tickets down here for the Monday, Tuesday games, and these guys do a masterful job throughout the whole year dealing with expectations.
“It’s great expectations put on this program and it’s been even more put on this program after what these guys were able to accomplish last year.”
Monday’s semifinal scores
No. 1 Gonzaga 65, No. 5 San Francisco 53
No. 6 San Diego 66, No. 7 Pacific 56
No. 1 Gonzaga 88, No. 4 San Francisco 60
No. 3 Brigham Young 85, No. 2 Saint Mary’s 72
Tuesday’s championship games
Women’s: Gonzaga vs. San Diego, 1 p.m. (ESPNU)
Men’s: Gonzaga vs. BYU, 6 p.m. (ESPN)