Gonzaga probably couldn’t have scheduled two better games to prepare for North Carolina’s visit than its road victories over Washington and Arizona in the last week.
The Huskies and Wildcats boast size, length and athleticism that are trademarks of North Carolina’s program. Washington and Arizona, which mounted a furious comeback in the final 2 minutes, pushed Gonzaga until the final buzzer.
The Zags expect a similar challenge from North Carolina, but the Tar Heels probably won’t be at full strength for Wednesday’s date at the McCarthey Athletic Center. Cole Anthony, one of the top point guards in the nation, is out indefinitely with a right knee injury, and starting wing Leaky Black (sprained foot) will be a game-day decision.
Hooptown Watch Party
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“North Carolina is just relentless with their rebounding and relentless with their transition game,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said Saturday night, prior to news surfacing about UNC’s injuries. “They just keep coming and coming.”
Gonzaga junior wing Corey Kispert was in the holiday spirit after the Zags’ 84-80 win Saturday in the desert.
“Excited, really excited,” Kispert said. “That’s one that I’ve been thinking about since we scheduled Carolina. It’s finally here and it’s Christmas coming a little early.”
Gilder bounces back
One of the best signs for Gonzaga in Saturday’s victory was senior guard Admon Gilder regaining the form he showed in the first six games of the season.
Gilder was a steady contributor in Gonzaga’s 6-0 start. The Texas A&M grad transfer played well at both ends of the floor while logging heavy minutes – all of the things Gonzaga expected from the 6-foot-4 guard.
Gilder has been battling a knee injury for several weeks. He played through the pain, but it obviously limited his effectiveness. His shooting percentage slipped and he eventually was replaced in the starting lineup by Joel Ayayi.
“Admon stands out to me,” Few said. “He’s been banged up and Joel has kind of taken his minutes. He hung with it and we needed him in the biggest moments, and he stepped up and hit some shots.”
Gilder made all four of his 3-point attempts and scored 13 points in 30 minutes. His 3-point accuracy jumped from 31.3% to 36.5%. He grabbed seven rebounds, handed out three assists and committed just one turnover.
“After I made the first one I was like, ‘Oh,’ ” said Gilder, flashing a broad smile. “After the second one went down I felt it, so I kept on shooting.”
Gilder acknowledged that he’s moving better and closer to full speed.
“The time (between games) has helped,” he said. “Honestly the injury was kind of a great thing because we understand what we can do, how to manage it and the type of exercises to help it get better.”
Tillie, Watson update
Freshman forward Anton Watson and senior forward Killian Tillie reluctantly found their way back onto the injury report.
Watson’s left shoulder subluxation issues returned. He departed in the first half after his shoulder popped out of place a couple times, reminiscent of the scene at Texas A&M a month ago. Watson returned against the Aggies, but he was sidelined for the remainder of the Arizona game.
“Just the same thing, the shoulder,” Watson said. “It’s good, though. I just need to get it stronger.”
Watson missed a few games after what was thought to be a sprained ankle suffered in the Battle 4 Atlantis opener. The freshman forward said he actually sprained his foot against Southern Miss.
Tillie, who missed the first four games following October knee surgery, went to the bench in the second half after spraining his left ankle, according to Few.
“I’ll tough it out,” said Tillie, who had seven points, five rebounds and three assists in 18 minutes.