LAS VEGAS – Even before the West Coast Conference released its all-league awards one week ago, it seemed a sure thing that four of five Gonzaga starters would be recognized in some way, shape or form.
As for the fifth starter? Put it this way: every national title contender needs its unsung hero.
Of GU’s starting five, Corey Kispert’s name was the only one missing from the 10-man All-WCC First Team. It doesn’t mean the league’s coaches were missing something when they filled out their ballots – just that the sophomore is still doing exactly what he needs to do for the top team in the country.
The duties vary for Kispert, but the forward’s job Monday night was taking nine shots from the field, scoring 11 points, snatching five rebounds and playing blue-collar defense throughout Gonzaga’s 100-74 rout of Pepperdine in the semifinal game of the WCC Tournament.
Kispert clocked out after 25 minutes – just a tick under his season average – with the Bulldogs nursing a 29-point lead.
“I was proud of him tonight, he really did a lot of good things tonight defensively,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “He sat down defensively and guarded and made some plays off the ball that he hasn’t been making.”
Workmanlike games from Kispert have been a staple of Gonzaga’s third straight 30-win season and one in which they’ve spent five weeks atop the Associated Press Top 25 poll – and each of the last three. He’s logging nearly as many minutes as co-starters Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke, Josh Perkins and Zach Norvell Jr., but he’s the only member of that quintet averaging under double figures.
In the nine games before Monday’s, Kispert reached double figures just twice, scoring 2, 5, 10, 4, 8, 5, 5, 7 and 2 points.
And his 11 points against Pepperdine didn’t pop on a night that saw Killian Tillie make a highly-anticipated return to the floor – and one that saw four other Zags score as many or more points than he did. Yet he was an integral part of GU’s efforts on the boards, Few said, and was a big reason the Bulldogs were able to hold the Waves to just 26 first-half points.
“(He was) rebounding the ball better, we’ve been challenging him,” Few said. “He’s not rebounded the ball as well, the way he was rebounding it last year. So I thought he was excellent tonight.”
Kispert won’t be getting an All-WCC certificate in the mail this season, but he’s found comfort in his role and understands how valuable it’s been – and will continue to be – for a team that will gun for its seventh consecutive WCC Tournament title Tuesday evening.
“Steady Eddy, always,” he said. “Doesn’t matter to me how many points I score, how many rebounds I get, I’m doing everything I can to keep myself on the floor and contribute as much as I can whether that’s playing good defense, diving on the floor for loose balls.
“Or if the shots are falling, hitting 3’s and attacking the rim hard and doing whatever I can to help this team win.”
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