The McCarthey Athletic Center is still full, but it doesn’t sound the same during Gonzaga’s holiday-break games.
That was the case during No. 8 Gonzaga’s 89-55 romp over UT Arlington on Tuesday. It was quiet enough to eavesdrop on conversations in the crowd and hear Corey Kispert shout “switch” from the concourse.
It happens every season when the students leave for the holidays. The Zags better get used to it with the Kennel Club absent for their next five home games, including Friday’s date with Denver and the West Coast Conference opener against Santa Clara on Jan. 5.
Topics in our latest Gonzaga rewind include the McCarthey’s serene environment, an injury update and Joel Ayayi.
The Zags were thrilled to be home for the first time since Dec. 5 (Washington) and just the third time since Nov. 15. GU has played in four time zones while visiting Hawaii, Nebraska, Phoenix and North Carolina after dusting Texas A&M 94-71 on Nov. 15.
The Bulldogs will need to be self-starters until the students return for spring semester prior to Loyola Marymount’s visit on Jan. 17.
“That’s part of why I screamed (switch) so loudly,” Kispert said. “Those guys can hear me if I’m just talking normally. With our students not here, the crowd is a lot less energetic. There’s a lot less energy in the building.
“So we have to create our own energy as a team. I do that by talking louder. I have a loud voice. I have for a long time.”
“Just across the board, we need to toughen up,” Kispert said. “A lot of plays in the last couple games where we were really soft. Watching the film, it’s kind of embarrassing, especially in Chapel Hill.”
The Zags had some lapses in concentration against UTA, particularly with 15 mostly unforced turnovers, but coach Mark Few was generally pleased with the effort and focus.
“Somebody said we’ve traveled like 14,000 miles in 20-something days,” Few said. “It’s not just the physical toll, it’s the emotional toll of trying to get fired up. It takes a toll on everybody. We’ve got one more before Christmas and then we get a couple days off.”
Crandall, Tillie on schedule
The Zags’ roster should get a big boost in the near future with the return of guard Geno Crandall and forward Killian Tillie.
Both had positive checkups recently, Few said. “First of the year we should be able to get them moving around, doing some more things,” he said.
Tillie is out of the walking boot on his right foot. He had surgery to repair a stress fracture in his ankle in late October. Crandall didn’t require surgery, just time to mend the broken third metacarpal in his right hand suffered in practice Nov. 23.
“They’ve seen some new bone growth on the X-ray. Everything is healing on time and it’s kind of on the original timetable of 4-6 weeks,” Crandall said. “I’ve been able to do some noncontact defensive stuff and some light contact.”
The North Dakota grad transfer is “hopeful” of playing in the Dec. 31 home game against Cal State Bakersfield, but that will depend on his next appointment with the doctor.
Crandall suited up against North Carolina last Saturday, even though there was no chance of playing.
“I kind of just wanted to be out there with the team and bring some energy,” he said. “And then just work up a sweat a little bit and see what I can do.”
Gonzaga, which hasn’t had a blowout since thumping North Dakota State on Nov. 26, used bench players for 63 minutes against UTA after averaging 30 in the previous four games.
Redshirt freshman guard Joel Ayayi made a rare first-half appearance near the 11-minute mark. He responded with a couple of layups, a rebound and a nice defensive possession on UTA’s top scorer Brian Warren.
GU’s lead grew from 19-9 to 32-12 with Ayayi on the floor. Ayayi subbed in for Josh Perkins, but he wasn’t necessarily running the point. Zach Norvell Jr. was the primary ball-handler with Ayayi and even Rui Hachimura helping bring the ball down against modest three-quarters-court pressure.
“In a pinch, we’ve been running Snacks (Norvell) there. That’s what we’re all comfortable with,” said Few, who has also inserted Greg Foster Jr. for limited minutes in three of the last four games.
Ayayi equaled his season high with 12 minutes. He played in the final minute against North Carolina but didn’t appear in six of the previous seven games. Foster played 7 minutes and finished with three points and an assist.
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