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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga rewind: Zags receive sizable impact with small-ball lineup

Corey Kispert was busy Wednesday night, scoring 26 points in second-ranked Gonzaga’s decisive 94-81 victory over North Carolina.

But it wasn’t all about his highlight-reel scoring binges, which included one segment in which he hit a 3-pointer and roughly 3 minutes later added a three-point play and dunk that gave Gonzaga a 41-27 lead.

In between, Kispert in succession guarded 6-foot-10 Armando Bacot, then 6-9 Garrison Brooks on consecutive possessions, then stymied 6-3 guard Christian Keeling in transition and then defended 6-7 wing Justin Pierce.

The 6-7 Kispert wasn’t just showing off his versatility. He was doing it because Gonzaga’s frontcourt was missing freshman forward Anton Watson (shoulder) and Killian Tillie was in game-long foul trouble, not to mention battling a sprained ankle suffered against Arizona.

The Zags have had little option but to go to a smaller lineup at times with Kispert moving from the wing to the ‘4.’ Gonzaga has one of the better frontcourts in the country and prefers an inside-out approach, but the four-man unit doesn’t have a clean bill of health.

“We had a lot of success with it against Arizona, but I think people have now kind of seen it,” coach Mark Few said. “It’s something we have to go to with Anton out and Killian was in massive foul trouble pretty much the entire (North Carolina) game.

“It’s nice to have the luxury to do it. Corey is beginning to understand how to be more and more effective in moving around and giving their other big a different look. It’s kind of done out of necessity.”

Bacot, a five-star recruit, caught the ball at the top of key, but was immediately hounded by Kispert and passed off to a teammate. Brooks, UNC’s top scorer with 16 points, didn’t touch the ball during two possessions. Keeling fumbled the ball out of bounds trying to navigate around Kispert near the hoop.

“We played Corey in a bunch of different positions, asked a lot of him and he gave us his all,” Few said.

At the offensive end, Kispert still remains stationed on the perimeter and his 3-point shooting ability gives posts Filip Petrusev or Drew Timme operating room inside. Kispert has hit a team-leading 34 3s and makes 43.6% from deep.

Kispert also has shown improvement finishing inside and with dribble penetration moves.

Watson on hold

Few hopes the Watson will return to the court, but only time will tell.

Watson’s left shoulder popped out of place a few times against Arizona. He suffered his first left shoulder subluxation against Texas A&M on Nov. 15, but returned to play effectively in the second half.

“It’s sore and painful and we’re just trying to get it to calm down a little bit and see if we can get him back on the floor playing again,” Few said. “Try to brace is and see if that helps. It takes time.”

Tour guides

A year ago, when Gonzaga visited North Carolina, coach Roy Williams took Few and athletic director Mike Roth on a guided tour of UNC’s impressive athletic facilities.

The Zags returned the favor with Tar Heels’ A.D. Bubba Cunningham and members of his staff prior to Wednesday’s rematch in Spokane.

“They got the full tour,” Roth said. “Actually, Rob Kavon (assistant A.D. for facilities) took them on the tour and I got a chance to visit with them. They were very complimentary. We saw people on their staff taking pictures.

“It’s what we do, too. When we go other places, we try to learn some of the things they’ve done.”

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