Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert is feeling better in both body and mind.
The freshman wing is a month removed from spraining his left ankle against Incarnate Word. He isn’t fully recovered, but he turned in his best performance since suffering the nasty sprain with 12 points and six rebounds in Thursday’s 81-48 rout over Pacific.
“I feel a lot better, the best I’ve felt in a month,” Kispert said.
Kispert and the 20th-ranked Zags (11-3, 1-0 WCC) face a quick turnaround with Santa Clara (4-9, 1-0) visiting the McCarthey Athletic Center at 4 p.m. Saturday.
Kispert was sidelined for two games and clearly limited while scoring 14 points in the last four games.
“It’s 100 percent more mental than physical,” Kispert said of recent stages in the recovery process. “My ankle feels good. In games I was back but not really back, it’s hard to feel like yourself when your game on offense and defense doesn’t feel normal. It gets in your head a little bit.”
Kispert started the first seven games and was one of the main reasons for Gonzaga’s strong start and potent offense. He scored in double figures in the first five games.
“Coach (Mark) Few has really encouraged me to stay in my lane and be confident and do what I do best,” Kispert said. “Even though I didn’t make all the 3s I shot (vs. Pacific), being able to take a lot of them was a boost to my confidence.”
Zach Norvell Jr. has replaced Kispert in the starting lineup and has been Gonzaga’s leading scorer over the last seven games. Kispert is working his way back to his November form.
“He’s a big key man, that’s why we were so good early. He was a physical presence, he stretches the floor,” Few said. “But it’s one of those things when you come back you don’t try things, maybe parts of your game you don’t do so well right when you come back. You just go to the simple catch-and-shoots and hit the glass.”
Santa Clara edged visiting Pepperdine 72-65 on Thursday. The Waves shot 52 percent and won the boards 35-25, but Santa Clara forced 16 turnovers and held a 12-point advantage in points off turnovers.
Junior guard KJ Feagin (18.7) is second in the WCC in scoring behind Jock Landale of Saint Mary’s. Feagin has scored in double digits in all 13 games. Princeton grad transfer Henry Caruso has been in double figures in 11 games. Junior guard Matt Hauser has had six games with at least three 3-pointers.
Feagin, Caruso or Hauser has led Santa Clara in scoring in 12 of 13 games.
“It’s league and a short turnaround, so you wipe all the stats and the slate clean,” Few said. “They’ve got some guys that can really shoot behind the 3-point line. Herb (Sendek) is a great coach, so we’re expecting a little bit of everything.”
The Broncos lead the WCC in turnover margin (plus 3.8) but they’ve struggled on the glass and on defense. Opponents are shooting 50 percent, including 43.5 percent on 3-pointers.
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