Gonzaga’s frontcourt was down two players essentially the entire game. The Zags’ starting backcourt of Admon Gilder and Ryan Woolridge limped to the bench during the second half.
The game itself was no problem as the eighth-ranked Zags cruised past Southern Miss 94-69 Wednesday in the opening round of the Battle 4 Atlantis in Paradise Island, Bahamas.
The growing injury list was another matter.
Senior forward Killian Tillie watched from the bench. He’s experiencing soreness in his surgically repaired knee. Tillie played in Gonzaga’s last two games and averaged 14 points.
“The knee swelled up again on the plane as it was a long plane ride and so we are just being very, very cautious to see if we can get the swelling out of there,” coach Mark Few said. “It really is a game-time decision (Thursday).”
Three Zags departed with injuries during the contest, beginning with freshman forward Anton Watson leaving with a right foot or ankle injury in the opening minute. Watson, who returned to the starting lineup in place of Tillie, landed on the foot of a Golden Eagles player after attempting a shot in the lane.
Gilder scored eight points in the first half, but he was limping noticeably at the outset of the second half. He played less than one minute and headed for the bench after committing a foul. He’s dealing with a sore right knee.
With just under 7 minutes remaining, Woolridge came up hobbling after driving into the lane and landing awkwardly following a shot attempt. He stayed in for another possession on defense and offense before limping to the sideline, favoring his right leg.
The status of Watson, Gilder and Woolridge for Thursday’s game wasn’t immediately known. The level of competition will increase significantly with the Zags (7-0), who will face No. 11 Oregon in the semifinals. The Ducks rallied from a 19-point deficit in the second half to edge No. 13 Seton Hall 71-69.
Gonzaga and Oregon haven’t played since the Ducks’ 70-64 win at the 1999 Rainbow Classic in Honolulu in Few’s first season as head coach.
Even with the barrage of injuries, the short-handed Zags still had way too much for Southern Miss, which dropped to 2-4. The Golden Eagles are 0-4 vs. Division I foes.
Junior wing Corey Kispert snapped out of a three-game shooting slump by swishing his first two 3-point attempts and hitting four treys in the opening half as the Zags rolled to a 53-32 halftime lead.
“It was not easy and it wasn’t a lot of fun,” Kispert said of his 3-of-24 shooting in the previous three games. “You have to trust the work that you put in, trust the hours that you put in and not change a single thing and you know the ball will eventually start falling for you.”
Southern Miss hit 7 of 8 shots to open the game and it was tied at 18 before the Zags rattled off 13 straight points.
Gonzaga closed the half by making its last 12 shots from the field.
The Zags led by as many as 32 points in the second half.
Kispert poured in 7 of 8 3-pointers and finished with 28 points, equaling his career high set against Alabama State in the season opener.
Sophomore guard Joel Ayayi set a career-high with 21 points and pulled down 12 rebounds for his first career double-double. Woolridge had seven assists and Ayayi added six.
“Everything is new for me and I’m just getting more and more comfortable on the court,” Ayayi said. “Every time I get in it’s about doing the little things.”
Sophomore Filip Petrusev and freshman Drew Timme logged extended minutes with Tillie and Watson on the bench. Petrusev finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. Timme chipped in 11 points and seven boards.
Gonzaga shot 57.6% from the field and drained 13 of 19 3-pointers (68.4%).
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