Corey Kispert leads No. 1 Gonzaga past Saint Mary’s, 87-65
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Gonzaga is undefeated and has been ranked No. 1 all season. Coach Mark Few wants to put that in some perspective.
“This isn’t the most physically imposing squad we’ve marched out there,” Few said, noting the 2017 team that reached the NCAA championship game was bigger and the 2019 team may have had more gifted athletes.
“This is a team. They move it and share it. Our offensive numbers are reflecting that,” Few said. “It’s something to behold if you ask me.”
Corey Kispert scored 20 points, Joel Ayayi added 16 and Gonzaga beat cold-shooting Saint Mary’s 87-65 on Thursday night, extending the nation’s longest winning streak to 25 games over the past two seasons.
Drew Timme scored 12 points to help Gonzaga (21-0, 12-0 West Coast) extend its home winning streak to 48 games and wrap up the conference regular-season title. Fans were allowed at a Gonzaga home game for the first time this season and a few dozen family members of players were in the stands.
“We’re really playing tough, hard-nosed, attentive defense,” Few said.
Ayayi made four of five from 3-point range. “I love that Joel was hunting his 3 a little bit more today,” Few said.
The Zags looked better than in the first game at Saint Mary’s, when they trailed after 11 minutes and finished with a season-low 73 points.
“We delivered against their physicality better than we did down at their place,” Few said.
Judah Brown scored 16 points, and Logan Johnson had 13 for Saint Mary’s (11-7, 2-5). The Gaels are typically one of Gonzaga’s arch-rivals but are having a down season made worse by prolonged COVID-19 closures.
Gonzaga has won 18 consecutive games by double digits. That’s the longest streak within a season by an Associated Press No. 1 team since UNLV won 19 games in a row by 10 or more in 1990-91.
Gonzaga never trailed, jumping to a 17-6 lead in the opening minutes.
The big blow was a 19-2 run late in the first that pushed their lead to 46-18.
The Zags led 51-24 at halftime, behind 14 points from Kispert and 11 from Ayayi.
The Gaels were hurt by 36% shooting in the first, including 1 of 11 from 3-point range, and 12 turnovers. Gonzaga shot a blistering 61% in the first and committed only four turnovers.
Andrew Nembhard had six points as Gonzaga opened the second half with a 10-0 run for a 61-24 lead to put the game out of reach.
“We were cooking on all cylinders,” Kispert said, adding that the Zags are focusing on defense lately.
“Great defensive teams make Final Fours and win national championships,” he said. “We knew the offense would take care of itself.”
Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett did not have a video press conference after the game.
Gonzaga shot 61% from the floor for the game, while Saint Mary’s rebounded from a dreadful first half to finish at 45.5%.
An easy win over their longtime rival should help the Zags stay on top of the poll.
Saint Mary’s: The Gaels lead the WCC in scoring defense at 61.7 points per game. But the Gaels struggle on offense, as this was their 10th straight game below 70 points.
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs came in 11-0 in WCC play for the third straight year. In the first 440 minutes of conference play this season, the Zags have only trailed for 45 minutes and 58 seconds. Gonzaga and No. 2 Baylor are the last remaining unbeaten teams. The Zags’ 24-straight 20-win seasons ranks second for the longest active run in the country behind Kansas’ 30. Gonzaga leads the nation in scoring offense (93.1) and field-goal percentage (55.1).
Saint Mary’s: Hosts Pepperdine on Monday.
Gonzaga: Hosts San Diego on Saturday. The league also announced that Gonzaga will host Santa Clara next Thursday and Loyola Marymount the following Saturday to make up for earlier postponements.
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