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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

John Blanchette: Corey Kispert garners rave reviews for career-best performance in rout of Virginia

Dec. 26, 2020 Updated Sat., Dec. 26, 2020 at 9:44 p.m.

Gonzaga forward Corey Kispert reacts in the first half Saturday after making one of his nine 3-pointers against Virginia during the Bulldogs’ 98-75 rout n Fort Worth, Texas.  (Associated Press)
Gonzaga forward Corey Kispert reacts in the first half Saturday after making one of his nine 3-pointers against Virginia during the Bulldogs’ 98-75 rout n Fort Worth, Texas. (Associated Press)
By John Blanchette For The Spokesman-Review

Right at the top, let’s turn it over to Geno Crandall, whose insight and perspective might be the only thing the Gonzaga Bulldogs haven’t replaced in their lineup since his departure in 2019.

But, hey, he can still weigh in on social media.

Crandall hoops it up in England these days, but is a happy spectator wherever a Zags game can be streamed – and Zags spectators couldn’t have been happier with the 98-75 licking their guys put on Virginia on Saturday afternoon.

Which was pretty much the Corey Kispert Extravaganza, except for those moments it became the Drew Timme Spectacular.

But it was Kispert who shot his way into the Gonzaga record book, where the editors might want to include this footnote.

“Watching Corey Kispert shoot a basketball is like watching Denzel Washington act,” Crandall offered on Twitter from his perch across the pond. “Looks the same every time. You know there’s a great chance it’s gonna be good, and the occasional miss is excused because it’s Denzel Washington.”

So what Denzel-ish star turn were we watching on Saturday?

“Man on Fire?” “Unstoppable?”

Two thumbs up, regardless.

Now, Gonzaga’s senior sharpshooter going off for 32 points is not otherworldly, career high or not. Kispert was averaging 20.8 through the Zags’ first six games, and his 3-point shooting has been so accurate (45.9 %) that an especially hot outing was easily imagined.

Plus his teammates don’t play keepaway. This is important.

But the opponent was Virginia, college basketball’s foremost stingyologists.

They aren’t the national championship Cavs of two years ago, but it’s for certain that their coach, Tony Bennett, won’t concede a single possession on the defensive end, even if he’s forced to a lineup of five folding chairs out there.

Which is how it appeared on several occasions.

“We didn’t have a place in that game today,” said Bennett, who once held a Gonzaga team to 47 points when he was coaching at Washington State – and never had a Virginia team allow an opponent to shoot 60 %.

Calamity for the Cavs was hinted at early when they turned over the ball three straight times to open the game. Amid that, Kispert rotated into the open high above the key, collected a pass from freshman Jalen Suggs and found net for the first of his nine 3-pointers.


His first four – all assisted by Suggs – basically had the Cavs tearing up their defensive plan. After seven straight Virginia points cut the deficit to 44-31 at halftime, Kispert blew up any notion of comeback with three more in the first 3:37 of the second half.

“There’s an old saying that you’re never more open than when you first catch the ball,” Kispert said. “They’re going to close out to you the longer you hold it, so a lot of my shots didn’t really touch my hands very long.”

Bennett didn’t stick with one approach, either. Sam Hauser, the Cavs’ 6-foot-8 Marquette transfer, tried checking Kispert initially, and Bennett later went smaller with Casey Morsell and even smaller with 5-9 Kihei Clark. The only thing that worked was Kispert picking up a third foul and spending a long stretch on the bench.

“They run a tough action,” Bennett explained. “They roll Timme to the rim and there’s a lot of pressure on that. You’ve got Suggs coming off the ball screen, so you have to stop the ball. You have to help on the roll. And then Kispert – they call it a shaker – he’s filling behind. You have to quickly get it stopped and recover. If you’re too close to Kispert, they’re going to throw it to the rim. If you don’t get the ball stopped, they turn the corner. If you stay too long, they’re going to throw it to Kispert.”

And sometimes the Zags improvise.

“He’s got some very unselfish teammates,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few noted. “They literally know where he’s at on the floor at all times. Those guards are looking for him – and they’re doing things outside our set plays to free him up.”

And Kispert’s looking to deliver.

“He’s hunting his shots and shooting some closely guarded shots,” Few said. “He’s big, athletic and has a high (shooting) pocket, so he doesn’t have to change his shot. It’s fun to see him show everybody what he’s capable of doing.”

Like setting records – or tying them anyway.

Dan Dickau hit nine 3s twice – the first time 20 years ago against Santa Clara, then a year later against Loyola Marymount. Kevin Pangos equaled against WSU in 2011. Zag legends, both.

“They are,” Few agreed. “But Corey’s a legendary Gonzaga player. He’s not only done it on the floor, but you literally could not have a better leader or representative of your program than Corey Kispert. He’s a walking poster child, not only of Gonzaga basketball but why we have college sports.”

And he has something in common with Denzel Washington, too.

He Got Game.

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