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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga rewind: Zags battle big frontcourts with mixed results

UPDATED: Sun., Feb. 28, 2021

Gonzaga's Corey Kispert battles defensively against Loyola Marymount 7-foot-3 center Mattias Markusson in Saturday's home win.  (By Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga's Corey Kispert battles defensively against Loyola Marymount 7-foot-3 center Mattias Markusson in Saturday's home win. (By Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

As an unbeaten regular season and season-long No. 1 ranking suggests, Gonzaga doesn’t have a long list of worries.

Still, a couple of those – rim protection and frontcourt depth – were front and center in both games as the top-ranked Bulldogs snagged hard-fought victories over Santa Clara and Loyola Marymount at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

More on the Zags tangling with two sizable opponents and freshman Ben Gregg’s progression in the latest Gonzaga rewind.

Big tests

Gonzaga coach Mark Few called LMU’s frontcourt and wings “gigantic.” Zags wing Corey Kispert noted the Lions are “huge.”

The Lions are both with Mattias Markusson (7-foot-3, 265 pounds), Ivan Alipiev (6-8, 215), Keli Leaupepe (6-6, 248) and Eli Scott (6-6, 232) logging major minutes.

Markusson made 8 of 9 shots – most after posting up within an arm’s length of the rim – and had 19 points and 10 boards. Scott heated up in the second half to finish with 20 points and 11 boards. Leaupepe and Alipiev combined for five 3-pointers and 17 points.

Gonzaga has enjoyed a huge advantage in paint points all season thanks to its transition game, opportunities created by its ball-screen package and Drew Timme’s creative moves.

The Zags had a 38-34 edge against the Lions, just the third time this season GU has been below 40 points. It was 50-42 vs. Santa Clara, which has a rotation of bigs led by Josip Vrankic and Guglielmo Caruso.

“They (the Lions) tested us for sure,” said Kispert, who had 49 points in the two wins. “They outrebounded us by a ton. It’s stuff we have to clean up. We definitely have to get better at rebounding.”

There was a give-and-take feel with the Lions owning the boards 32-21, but the Zags shot 58.3% from the field, attempted a season-high 32 free throws and Kispert, often playing the ‘4’, racked up 24 points. LMU also committed 19 turnovers.

“We started (6-1 Aaron Cook on Senior Night) and that made us extremely small and they started the biggest lineup I’ve seen since I’ve been coaching college basketball,” Few said. “So they exploited us a little bit on the glass and hurt us inside. That was probably the extent of the reasons why (Gonzaga’s slow start) happened.”

Gonzaga won the glass against Santa Clara 40-32 and overcame a rough 3-point night (7 of 24) by making 65% inside the arc. Kispert scored 25 points while Timme (18 points) and Caruso (19) posted similar numbers.

Timme and Anton Watson battled first-half foul trouble.

“We knew going in (LMU) was going to rebound,” Kispert said. “We had to fight back and it ended up working out well for us. We definitely have to go into these tournament games, the WCC and the NCAA, with a fighter’s mentality.

“These teams watch film, they watch these games so it’s going to be pretty obvious how they’ll try to attack us.”

Gregg gets playing time

The 6-foot-10 Gregg came off the bench in the first half of a tight game against Santa Clara with Timme and Watson dealing with foul issues. He contributed one field goal and one rebound in nearly four minutes.

“He’s been showing that in practice, too, and that’s why I went to him,” Few said. “He’s making plays and he has a good feel. We just have to get him a little more comfortable. He was a little reticent of what he needed to do offensively.

“I certainly have developed confidence in him, the guys now have confidence in him. I think moving forward you’ll probably see more of him.”

Gregg, who graduated early from Clackamas (Oregon) High to join the Zags in December, played two-plus minutes against LMU. “I guess (Saturday night) was kinda my senior night too,” he joked in a Twitter post.

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