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Corey Kispert leads No. 9 Gonzaga over Texas Southern 101-62

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SPOKANE, Wash. — Corey Kispert scored 17 points, Joel Ayayi added 16 and No. 9 Gonzaga beat Texas Southern 101-62 on Wednesday night, rebounding from a loss to Michigan in the Battle 4 Atlantis title game.

Seven players scored in double figures for Gonzaga (9-1). The Zags have 28 consecutive home wins, second-longest streak in the nation after Tennessee’s 30.

Tyrik Armstrong scored 15 points for Texas Southern (2-6), which is playing a difficult nonconference schedule. Yahuza Ross added nine.

Gonzaga made 12 of its first 15 shots to jump to a 25-15 lead.

Texas Southern scored three straight baskets to get to 25-21.

But Gonzaga replied with a 28-9 run to push its lead to 53-30 at halftime.

Gonzaga shot 61% in the first half, while the Tigers shot just 37.8% and made just one of 11 from 3-point range.

Gonzaga scored the first nine points of the second half for a 62-30 lead.

Kispert’s 3-pointer gave Gonzaga an 82-46 lead with just under eight minutes left in the game.

BIG PICTURE

Texas Southern: The Tigers were picked to finish second in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Their defense came in yielding 79.9 points per game. They have lost to Gonzaga each of the previous two years.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs have five players banged up, and were seeking to rebound from an 82-64 loss to Michigan last Friday that was their most lopsided since 2014. They are 14-0 all-time against SWAC teams.

UP NEXT

Texas Southern hosts Concordia on Saturday.

Gonzaga plays at No. 22 Washington on Sunday, followed by a game at No. 12 Arizona on Dec. 14 before returning home to face No. 7 North Carolina on Dec. 18.

Petrusev leads No. 8 Gonzaga over North Dakota 97-66

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SPOKANE, Wash. — Filip Petrusev had 19 points, 15 rebounds and four blocked shots as No. 8 Gonzaga beat North Dakota 97-66 on Tuesday.

Corey Kispert scored 20 points and Anton Watson added 15 for Gonzaga (3-0), which has romped to victory in all three games. Six Bulldogs scored in double figures.

The Zags have won all six meetings with the Fighting Hawks.

Marlon Stewart scored 21 points and Filip Rebraca had 16 points and 13 rebounds for North Dakota (1-1), which took Gonzaga to overtime before losing here in 2017.

No such thriller this time, as Gonzaga held the Fighting Hawks to 34.7% shooting and outrebounded them 53-29.

Gonzaga jumped to a 15-2 lead as North Dakota missed eight of its first nine shots.

Kispert and Admon Gilder each hit 3-pointers as Gonzaga built a 25-9 lead.

North Dakota found its shooting touch and consecutive 3-pointers by Stewart cut Gonzaga’s lead to 30-21.

The Bulldogs replied with a 14-1 run.

Gonzaga led 55-36 at halftime, after holding the Fighting Hawks to 35% shooting and outrebounding them 28-14 in the first.

Gonzaga pushed the lead to 65-40 midway through the second, behind three consecutive baskets by Watson.

BIG PICTURE

North Dakota: Freshman De’Sean Allen-Eikens scored 22 points in a season-opening win over Crown, but was held in check Tuesday. North Dakota has never beaten a ranked team since joining Division I in 2008. North Dakota has 11 returning letter winners, including four who started at least 16 games last season.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs came in shooting 60% from the field, second in the nation. They average 102.5 points per game. They have six freshmen on their roster and one returning starter in Kispert. Gonzaga’s 165 wins in the past five seasons are tops in Division I.

UP NEXT

North Dakota plays at Valparaiso on Sunday.

Gonzaga faces its toughest test of the young season at Texas A&M on Friday.

Kispert leads No. 8 Gonzaga over Alabama State 95-64

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SPOKANE, Wash. — Corey Kispert is the only returning starter for No. 8 Gonzaga from last year’s Elite Eight team, and he knows many of his young teammates are looking for leadership.

He provided it Tuesday.

Kispert scored a career-high 28 points as Gonzaga used a second-half surge to beat Alabama State 95-64 in the season opener for both teams.

“Setting the tone for the team is kind of what I am trying to do,” Kispert said after making 10 of his 13 shots, including five from 3-point range.

“I was in rhythm, not thinking too much,” Kispert said. “I let it come to me. That’s when the best things happen.”

Kispert knows he has to take a leadership role on a team that lost four starters to the NBA.

He said he learned how to be a leader from former teammates Johnathan Williams two years ago and Josh Perkins last year.

“I played with guys who did it well,” Kispert said.

Filip Petrusev added 15 points, Admon Gilder scored 12 and Ryan Woolridge had 11 for depleted Gonzaga, which is down to nine scholarship players. The Bulldogs have won 16 consecutive season openers dating to 2003.

Jacoby Ross scored 16 points and Brandon Battle had 10 for Alabama State in the first meeting between the teams.

Gonzaga led 42-30 at halftime behind 13 points from Kispert. Alabama State was hampered by 12 turnovers in the first half that led to 14 Gonzaga points. Gonzaga had just three turnovers in the first.

Consecutive 3-pointers by Ross allowed the Hornets to cut Gonzaga’s lead to 50-41 early in the second.

“It was a complete breakdown in our coverage,” Kispert said. “We’ve got to tighten up.”

Gonzaga replied with 15 straight points, while holding Alabama State scoreless for nearly six minutes, to take a 65-41 lead and was not threatened again. Kispert had nine points in that run.

Alabama State coach Lewis Jackson said the 24 fouls called on his team were a big problem.

“We wanted to come out aggressively on defense, but we picked up too many fouls,” Jackson said. “They got too many points off the free-throw line.”

Gonzaga sank 17 free throws, to just seven for the Hornets.

“Jacoby played really well,” Jackson said. “He was aggressive on defense and played with a lot of poise.”

SHORT-HANDED ZAGS

Forward Killian Tillie is still recovering from knee surgery and did not play, while freshman guard Brock Ravet, who was expected to contribute, has temporarily left the team for personal reasons. Gonzaga coach Mark Few said Tillie is the team’s most experienced player, despite missing much of last season with various injuries. “It’s frustrating for him,” Few said. “Hopefully we’ll get him back.”

TURNOVER TROUBLE

Alabama State was plagued by 21 turnovers that led to 29 Gonzaga points. The Zags committed just eight turnovers.

STATS

Gonzaga won the rebounding battle 34-25 and shot 57.6% to 49% for the Hornets.

BIG PICTURE

Alabama State: The Hornets are starting the season with 15 consecutive road games. They do not play at home until January. Jackson is seeking his 200th career victory.

Gonzaga: The Zags are picked to win an eighth consecutive West Coast Conference regular-season title. They have averaged 33 wins per season since 2014-15, tops in the nation.

UP NEXT

Alabama State plays at Missouri State on Sunday.

Gonzaga hosts Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Saturday.

College basketball’s best frontcourts

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As the NBA game gets smaller and quicker and more spread out, the college game can still be beaten with big guys.

Just two years ago, in between Villanova’s two national titles, was a championship game played between a Gonzaga team built around their big guys and a North Carolina team built around their big guys.

Hell, I think you can make the argument that Kansas center Udoka Azubuike is one of the five most valuable players in college basketball, even if his potential as a pro is limited.

So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the best frontcourts in college hoops.



1. KANSAS (Udoka Azubuike, Mitch Lightfoot, Silvio De Sousa, David McCormack, Jalen Wilson, Tristan Enaruna)

The Jayhawks have perhaps the best traditional big men in college hoops in Udoka Azubuike, who shot 77 percent from the floor in his last (and only) healthy season, but it’s unclear just exactly how this frontcourt will work as a whole. Silvio De Sousa is probably the most talented of this group with David McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot the most experienced. None of those three, though, have shown the ability to step out on the perimeter to help create the space that will be critical for Azubuike to operate. Lightfoot is actually largely expected to redshirt. That leaves freshmen Jalen Wilson and Tristan Enaruna, a couple of four-star recruits.

What Bill Self does with this situation could very well determine Kansas’ ceiling. Frankly, it won’t be at all surprising if we see Self try doses of Marcus Garrett, Isaiah Moss and Ochai Agbaji at the four to alleviate the spacing concerns.

2. DUKE (Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt, Javin DeLaurier, Jack White)

Coach K’s use of his frontcourt last year was one of the more scrutinized tactical decisions, with Zion Williamson, a singular force in the sport, splitting his time between power forward and center, when more time at the five probably would have unlocked a little more firepower for the Blue Devils. That won’t be the case this year with Duke’s roster flipping over, but how its frontcourt performs will go a long way in determining if it can get where last year’s team didn’t – the Final Four.

Vernon Carey and Matthew Hurt are both five-star recruits and potential one-and-done lottery picks as top-15 prospects. The pair should, well, pair well with Carey at the five and Hurt stretching the floor at the four. Javin DeLaurier got a lot of run for the Blue Devils last year, and will help provide experience and depth up front.

3. MEMPHIS (James Wiseman, Precious Achiuwa, Isaiah Maurice, DJ Jeffries, Malcolm Dandridge)

Just how good Penny Hardaway’s frontcourt is will go a long way in determining if the Tigers are as good as their recruiting class. 

It starts with James Wiseman, the 7-foot-1 top-rated freshman and potential top-NBA draft pick come June. If he’s All-American good, then that sets Memphis up for success more than anything else. There’s that pesky ankle injury that’s kept him sidelined in the preseason, which is concerning but not cause for a full panic now.

It’s not the only thing, though. Precious Achiuwa was the other five-star Hardaway collected in his No. 1 recruiting class, which also included Isaiah Maurice, D.J. Jeffries and Malcolm Dandridge.

4. GONZAGA (Killian Tillie, Filip Petrusev, Drew Timme, Pavel Zakharov)

Killian Tillie is one of the more intriguing forwards in the country. People have been raving about his talent for years, but he’s been stuck behind great college players and future pros while also dealing with injuries. He even had knee surgery this offseason that has his immediate availability currently in question. If he’s healthy, the deck has been cleared in Spokane for him to be featured.

Six-foot-11 Filip Petrusev played in 32 games last year for the ‘Zags but wasn’t a huge piece of the rotation. He did have a big summer playing for Serbia at the FIBA U19s, putting up nearly 20 points a game and shooting 66 percent from the floor. He and Tillie could make for a dynamic duo.

Coach Mark Few also has some highly-rated freshmen he can mix in with Drew Timme and Pavel Zakharov, but they did get dinged when Oumar Ballo was forced to redshirt..

5. WASHINGTON (Jaden McDaniels, Isaiah Stewart, Naz Carter, Hamier Wright, Sam Timmins)

Memphis’ recruiting deservedly got a lot of love this summer, but Mike Hopkins got the job done, too. Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels are both top-10 recruits that will immediately make the Huskies’ frontcourt formidable. Both are 6-foot-9, but Stewart weighs in at 245 pounds and McDaniels 185. Nahziah Carter averaged 8.1 points and 2.4 rebounds while Hameir right played nearly 18 minutes per game. Sam Timmins played sparingly, but shot 62 percent.

6. LOUISVILLE (Jordan Nwora, Steve Enoch, Malik Wiliams, Aidan Igiehon, Jaelyn Withers)

The 6-foot-7, 225-pound Nwora blossomed into an All-American candidate last year, averaging 17 points and 7.6 rebounds per game while shooting 37.4 percent from the floor. He’s an ACC player of the year frontrunner, and the cornerstone to both the Cardinals’ frontcourt and their Final Four aspirations.

Steve Enoch was effective both inside and out last season while Malik Williams is a top-level shotblocker. Aidan Igiehon is a four-star, top-75 recruit while Jaelyn Withers is a top-150 prospect from 2019.

(AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

7.  MISSISSIPPI STATE (Reggie Perry, Abdul Ado, Elias King, Robert Woodard II, Prince Oduro, KeyShawn Feazell, E.J. Datcher, Quinten Post)

Reggie Perry is a first-team all-SEC pick after he averaged 9.7 points and 7.2 rebounds last season while Abdul Ado is back after shooting 61.4 percent from the floor and blocking 1.8 shots per game last season. Robert Woodard played 17 minutes per game last year while Prince Oduro is eligible after a promising freshman season for Siena.

8. MARYLAND (Jalen Smith, Ricky Lindo, Chol Marial, Makhi and Makhel Mitchell)

Bruno Fernando is gone, but Jalen Smith was nearly as productive as him last season as a freshman. The 6-foot-10 Smith blocked 12.5 percent of opponent shots while on the floor while shooting 56.2 percent from 2-point range. He shot just 26.8 percent from distance, but hoisted 71 attempts, at least an indication he could potentially be a floor-spacer. The Terps are also adding twins Makhi and Makhel Mitchell, the former a top-75 recruit and the later a three-star prospect. Chol Marial is a 7-foot-2 freshman that could contribute if he gets healthy.

9. BAYLOR (Tristan Clark, Mark Vital, Freddie Gillispie, Flo Thamba)

Tristan Clark was on his way to first-team all-Big 12 honors last year before his knee injury that sidelined him for the rest of the season in January. He’s back this year, and he’ll anchor one of the best frontcourts in the country. Mark Vital, Freddie Gillispie and Flo Thamba all were contributors last season, and should be more effective with Clark by their side this season.

10. MICHIGAN STATE (Xavier Tillman, Marcus Bingham, Thomas Kithier, Malik Hall, Joey Hauser*)

Nick Ward and Kenny Goins are gone, but Xavier Tillman returns after a productive sophomore campaign that has him blossom on both ends of the floor, albeit not his 3-point shooting. Marcus Bingham and Thomas Kithier will be in line for more minutes after being seldomly used as freshmen while Malik Hall is a top-75 recruit.

The wildcard here is Joey Hauser. The Marquette transfer has already seen his request for an immediate-eligibility waiver denied by the NCAA, but Michigan State has appealed. If the NCAA reverses course, the Spartans’ frontcourt will suddenly look much more formidable.

11. FLORIDA (Kerry Blackshear, Keyontae Johnson, Gorjok Gak)

The Florida frontcourt got a massive boost when the 6-foot-10 Kerry Blackshear decided to grad-transfer over this past offseason. Blackshear averaged 14.9 points and 7.5 rebounds for the Hokies last season while also shooting 50.8 percent from the field. He’ll join Keyontae Johnson, who put up 8 and 6 last year, and Gorjok Gak, a 6-foot-11 center who missed last season with injury.

12. VIRGINIA (Jay Huff, Mamadi Diakite, Braxton Key)

The national champs lost a lot from last year’s team, but their frontcourt remains somewhat intact, although De’Andre Hunter is a major loss, no doubt. Getting Mamdi Diakite, Braxton Key and Jay Huff all to return is a help, though.

Diakite averaged 7.4 points and 4.4 rebounds in 22 minutes per game while blocking more than 10 percent of opponent shots while he was on the floor. Braxton Key and Jay Huff were smaller contributors last year, but still important ones. They’ll help Tony Bennett bridge the gap to the post-title era.

13. NORTH CAROLINA (Armando Bacot, Garrison Brooks, Justin Pierce, Sterling Manley, Brandon Huffman)

Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson are both gone, but Garrison Brooks is back from his junior season and five-star center Armando Bacot comes into the fold. So, too, is William & Mary graduate transfer Justin Pierce, a third-team all-CAA honoree who averaged 14.9 points, 8.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game last season as a junior.

14. UTAH STATE (Neemias Queta, Justin Bean, Diogo Brito, Kuba Karwowski, Roche Grootfaam)

Neemias Queta, a 7-foot sophomore, averaged 11.8 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game in his rookie campaign while shooting 61.4 percent, putting him among the country’s most productive centers. Justin Bean saw more time late in the season and was productive against MWC competition. Diogo Brito is a floor-spacer when he’s at the four. Kuba Karnowski and Roche Grootfaam are a pair of junior college transfers that could contribute.

15. PURDUE (Matt Haarms, Trevion Williams, Aaron Wheeler, Evan Boudreaux)

Matt Painter and the Boilermakers have made a habit of having one of the nation’s best frontcourts, and that won’t be any different this year. Matt Haarms will anchor the group after the 7-foot-3 center averaged 9.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game while shooting 63.2 percent from the floor. Two freshmen that saw time last year – 6-foot-9 forwards Aaron Wheeler and Trevion Williams – will step into bigger roles up front, too.

Killian Tillie returning to Gonzaga

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Gonzaga is getting back some frontcourt experience for next season as junior forward Killian Tillie is reportedly heading back to school.

According to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman, the 6-foot-10 Killie is returning for his senior season following an injury-riddled junior season that only saw him play 15 games. With Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura playing so well during the season, Tillie was relegated to coming off the bench as a role player in limited minutes during the season.

Tillie put up 6.2 points and 3.9 rebounds per game in only 16.6 minutes per game, a far cry from a breakout sophomore campaign that saw him average 12.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.

If Tillie is fully healthy, then he’s a potential all-conference player for the Zags as his offensive skill level is high and he’s a solid rebounder. But Tillie hasn’t looked the same while trying to play through the ankle and foot injuries that limited him last season. With Tillie also spraining an ankle during NBA draft workouts and dropping out of the combine, this could be the right decision since he hasn’t been healthy in a year.

Final Four is set after memorable Elite Eight

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The 2019 Final Four is set for next weekend in Minneapolis as the second weekend of the NCAA tournament was a memorable one.

After four memorable Elite Eight games, No. 1 seed Virginia will face No. 5 seed Auburn in one national semifinal with No. 2 seed Michigan State battling No. 3 seed Texas Tech in the other Final Four game on Saturday.

Falling in last season’s NCAA tournament to No. 16 seed UMBC, the Cavaliers figured things out to make the Final Four with a memorable overtime win in the South Region over No. 3 seed Purdue. Despite 42 points from Boilermaker junior guard Carsen Edwards, Virginia outlasted his 10 three-pointers with a flurry of their own from Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome. And with the team needing a buzzer-beating bucket just to force overtime, big man Mamadi Diakite came through.

Virginia’s win will go down as one of the better Elite Eight games of the decade as Edwards became a March hero while the Cavaliers finally overcame some NCAA tournament demons.

Also winning an overtime game in the Midwest Region was No. 5 seed Auburn as they outlasted SEC rival Kentucky. Playing without Sweet 16 star Chuma Okeke, who suffered a torn ACL on Friday, the Tigers rallied in the second half to beat the Wildcats behind Bryce Brown and Jared Harper to make their first Final Four in school history. The Wildcats’ great season ends behind a strong game from P.J. Washington as he overcame a foot injury last week to end a memorable sophomore season with 28 points and 13 rebounds.

Texas Tech advanced to its first Final Four in school history as well with a win over No. 1 seed Gonzaga on Saturday. In a close Elite Eight matchup in the West Region, the Red Raiders held off the Bulldogs with shot-making from Jarrett Culver and Matt Mooney while Gonzaga was held to 7-for-26 three-point shooting. Rui Hachimura (22 points) and Brandon Clarke (18 points) both had strong games while Josh Perkins (16 points) committed a late out-of-bounds foul that sealed the game for the Red Raiders.

The final Elite Eight thriller saw No. 2 seed Michigan State outlast No. 1 seed Duke in the East Region. Cassius Winston (20 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks) and Xavier Tillman (19 points, nine rebounds) both had big games for the Spartans as they limited turnovers to shock the No. 1 overall seed. The loss likely ends the college career of freshmen Zion Williamson (24 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks, three steals) and R.J. Barrett (21 points, six assists) as the Blue Devils fall short of the Final Four when many considered them a title favorite.

Between the four great games, two overtime thrillers, a buzzer-beater to force overtime and some big star performances, this makes a strong case for the best Elite Eight ever. We had a jaw-dropping Edwards performance in a losing effort, two blueblood programs (Duke and Kentucky) getting upset in close games and the final college game of the sport’s biggest star of the decade (Zion).

And that doesn’t even include Auburn and Texas Tech making the first Final Four in school history, Izzo’s finest coaching job and Winston’s heroics and Goins’ big shot. Virginia overcoming a shaky reputation and the Tigers overcoming the loss of Okeke to injury.

The first weekend might have been mostly chalk. The second weekend of the 2019 NCAA tournament was a great one as it culminated in memorable Elite Eight games and stars coming through in the clutch. It’s led to some unexpected Final Four matchups, but at least college hoops fans have plenty to talk about this week after some ridiculous games.