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Gonzaga rewind: Refreshed Zags tame North Alabama Lions

UPDATED: Sat., Dec. 29, 2018

North Alabama forward Andrew Morrissey gets a handful of Filip Petrusev’s jersey in Gonzaga’s 96-51 win Friday. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
North Alabama forward Andrew Morrissey gets a handful of Filip Petrusev’s jersey in Gonzaga’s 96-51 win Friday. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Gonzaga’s 96-51 drubbing of North Alabama on Friday lacked drama, as expected, but there were plenty of leftovers for the latest Zags’ rewind.

Hitting reset button

The Zags were running on empty – though they disguised it well in blowouts over UT Arlington and Denver – before the Christmas break. The time off afforded the players a chance to recharge from a travel-heavy, monthlong span that included eight games against power conference opponents.

Sophomore wing Corey Kispert didn’t pick up a basketball for three days.

“Went home (to the Seattle area), ate good food, hung out with my family and tried to get off my legs as much as possible,” he said.

“It was more of a mental break. You’re not going to lose anything over three days basketball-wise.”

Did he notice a difference when he returned for practice Wednesday?

“I was dunking the ball, yeah, I got that back,” he said.

Serbian connection

Two of the 39 Serbians on NCAA Division I rosters had a brief reunion Friday after GU’s blowout victory.

Gonzaga forward Filip Petrusev and North Alabama wing Alexsa Matic are used to seeing each other on the court, whether they’re wearing the same or opposing uniforms.

“We’ve been playing against each other our whole lives and together on (Serbian) national teams,” Petrusev said. “I know him well. Our parents are actually friends.”

They represented Serbia on U16 and U18 teams in the FIBA European Championships.

Serbia ranks fourth in Division I exports, behind Canada (119), Australia (68) and Nigeria (42).

Senegal is fifth with 28. France is next with 18, including Gonzaga’s Killian Tillie and Joel Ayayi.

“A bunch of my friends (from Serbia) are here,” Petrusev said. “They came here for college to play basketball and also get their degree.”

Petrusev had nine points and five rebounds in 19 minutes. Matic went scoreless in six minutes.

Big-time consistency

North Alabama “limited” Gonzaga forwards Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke to their lowest combined scoring effort of the season.

They produced 30 points – eight below their average – but don’t mistake that for the pair having an off night. They made 12 of 17 shots and finished with 18 rebounds, five blocks, four steals and three assists.

They’ve been remarkably consistent reaching double figures in all 14 games. Clarke’s season low was 10 points against Illinois when he picked up two fouls in the first 97 seconds. Hachimura’s 14 vs. UNA was his lowest output.

The duo scored 32 points against North Carolina and Texas A&M. They lit up Creighton for 49 points, one of five games of 40-plus points.

Conditioned to return

Tillie (ankle) and Geno Crandall (hand) are optimistic about returning soon from their injuries. Crandall could be back for Monday’s game against CSU Bakersfield.

They’ve tried to work on their conditioning while sidelined.

Tillie has put in time on a stationary bike and in the pool.

“Obviously, it’s going to be little tough at the beginning,” Tillie said.

Crandall has practically joined the track team.

“It’s tough to replicate what you go through in a game, changing pace and directions and running up and down the court,” Crandall said. “I can’t do too much lifting so they’ve been making sure I’m doing a lot of running and sliding on defense.”

The two have been involved in portions of recent practices.

“I think it’s defense and depth,” Kispert said of the where Tillie and Crandall will make the biggest difference. “Having an extra guard, Geno is an experienced player and talks a lot on defense. Killian is another rim protector that we can use. Getting guys breaks and being able to come off the bench with fresh legs over and over is huge.”

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