Gonzaga opens WCC play with rout of Pacific
The play of freshman reserve guard Corey Kispert symbolizes No. 20 Gonzaga’s wealth of depth and the Bulldogs’ fortitude after their loss at San Diego State on Dec. 21.
Kispert did not score in the defeat to the Aztecs in nine minutes of playing time. Before that, he missed two games with a sprained ankle and produced only 14 points in the last four games before Gonzaga took its Christmas break.
On Thursday night, Kispert came alive in Gonzaga’s West Coast Conference opener with 12 points and six rebounds in an 81-48 win over Pacific in Spokane, Wash.
Another reserve, forward Rui Hachimura, led the Bulldogs with 19 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field and 7-of-7 shooting at the foul line.
“Coming off a loss will keep you up late at night thinking of what you did wrong,” Kispert said. “We’re forced to put the last game behind us. To come back here and play as well as we did is a huge step going forward for us.”
Gonzaga’s starters all average double-figure scoring, including junior guard Josh Perkins, who finished with 16 points and five assists. Zach Norvell Jr. added 13 points and five rebounds.
The Bulldogs (11-3, 1-0 WCC) have won 22 consecutive league openers dating to 1996. They have won all 19 conference openers under coach Mark Few.
“What we have to do next is make a statement by starting 2-0 in league play (with a win over visiting Santa Clara on Saturday) by protecting our home court,” Few said. “That is something this program has been great at, winning the next one, being mentally prepared. We have to continue that.”
Pacific (5-9, 0-1) did not have a scorer in double figures. The Tigers, who shot only 33.3 percent from the field, including 25 percent from 3-point range, were led by Jahlil Tripp’s nine points. Jack Williams had seven points and nine rebounds.
“The reality of it is, and I’ll tell anybody this, we played good enough defense for the first 25 and 35 minutes, but it does not matter if you’re not making point-blank shots,” Pacific coach Damon Stoudamire said. “We did not take advantage of our opportunities.”
Gonzaga, which outrebounded Pacific 46-32, did not trail after Kispert made a layup with 13:57 left in the first half, giving the Bulldogs a 10-8 lead.
The home team built a 31-21 edge by halftime behind 11 points from Perkins.
A 14-2 run that gave Gonzaga a 61-39 lead with 10:28 left in the game proved to be difference. Norvell, Perkins, Kispert and Killian Tillie each made 3-pointers in that surge.
“We came into a tough atmosphere here, and in the second half, we hung our heads,” Pacific guard Miles Reynolds said. “They capitalized with some threes that blew it open. We have to do a better job of moving on to the next play by having short-term memory.”
Gonzaga forgot about its ball-handling woes, committing just seven turnovers after averaging 14.1 entering the game. Pacific had only eight points off turnovers, a key stat along with the Bulldogs producing a 22-2 edge on second-chance points.
“We’ve been so awful taking care of the ball, if we turn the ball over only seven times the rest of the season, we’ll be very, very good,” Few said.
Pacific had only 10 turnovers, but seven came before halftime, and Gonzaga cashed those in for eight points.
“If we don’t make those turnovers, we could be winning at halftime,” Stoudamire said. “I honestly feel as a team, we have to figure out how to make Pacific a better basketball team. We don’t have to be concerned about anything but ourselves.”
NOTES: Gonzaga has won the past 11 meetings against Pacific. The Tigers’ only win in the series came Dec. 23, 1976, a 70-60 decision in Stockton, Calif. The Tigers have never won in Spokane. ... Pacific reserve G Kendall Small entered the game 46th in the country, and first in the West Coast Conference, with an average of 2.08 steals per game. He went without a steal in 16 minutes against Gonzaga. ... PF Johnathan Williams led Gonzaga in scoring at 15.2 points per game before Thursday, but he finished with just two points against the Tigers.