Tipoff against CSU Bakersfield was nearly two hours away at McCarthey Athletic Center. Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert had a hoop to himself and a manager feeding him passes.
The junior wing shot 3-pointers with accuracy and without hesitation. He took a few steps closer, cut across the free-throw line and put up mid-range shot after shot, some right after the catch, some after a pump-fake.
Kispert essentially has been living at McCarthey Athletic Center and the Volkar Center practice gym. That’s routine whether Kispert is on fire – 28 points against Michigan State in a scrimmage, 28 versus Alabama State in the season opener and 20 against North Dakota – or struggling with a 3-of-24 shooting stretch in the last three games.
“First one in, last one out, and no matter how many times the ball goes in the work never changes,” Kispert said. “Gotta stick to it and stick to what I’ve done. It’s worked in the past, it’ll work. I’m not worried about the slump that I’m in. I’m going to keep letting that thing fly and live with the results. I’m confident the results are going to start getting better.”
Past Gonzaga shooters, none of whom were immune to slumps, fully understand the sentiment. Kevin Pangos was fond of saying, “Shoot when you’re hot, shoot to get hot.”
Kispert, who has made 2 of 17 3-pointers and scored just 10 points in Gonzaga’s last three wins, still has a green light, but he’s trying to spark his offense by grabbing offensive rebounds, driving or getting to the free-throw line.
“Corey needs to start rebounding the ball better,” coach Mark Few said. “Obviously we know he has great size and great athleticism. In past years he’s rebounded really well. He’s a very good shooter and shooters do what they do, they shoot. He’s taking all good shots so that’s a good thing for us.”
Killian Tillie’s knee isn’t 100 percent yet, but he’s made healthy contributions in his first two games since an October surgery.
The senior forward had 13 points, four rebounds, three assists, two steals and one block against CSU Bakersfield after putting up 15 points and eight boards against UT Arlington.
“He makes us so much better,” Few said, “and things so much easier for everybody around him.”
Tillie is working his way into shape. Same goes for his surgically repaired knee.
“It’s all right, it’s hanging in there,” he said. “It’s not perfect, but we’re doing what makes it feel better and makes it recover better.”
The Zags face three games in three days in the Bahamas later this week.
“We’ll see, but I like that I started playing at the beginning of the week so I could adapt,” Tillie said. “I’ll be ready for that for sure.”
The Zags finished with 15 assists against the Roadrunners, nine coming from the frontcourt trio of Filip Petrusev, Anton Watson and Tillie.
“We do work on that a lot, almost every day in practice,” Petrusev said. “Obviously we have big bodies, that’s another thing that helps us connect. I think we can do better at it. Tillie is great. I get the ball on point every time.”
Petrusev had a career-high four assists and Tillie added three. Watson has had at least two assists in every game.
“We’re kind of in the center of the offense,” Tillie said. “Our bigs are pretty skilled and know how to play. I’m not surprised by these passes.”
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