SPOKANE, WA – Corey Kispert turned, put his hands out and gave a little shrug as he jogged back down the floor after his fifth 3-pointer of the night.
Gonzaga's do-everything junior forward picked a memorable night in the history of Zags' basketball to have maybe the best game of his career.
“It was just one of those times when you were in the zone. ... I knew it was in when I let it go,” Kispert said. “It's hard not to play with emotion in this place, the fans get you hyped up and pumped up and I kind of just let it show.”
Kispert scored 26 points, Filip Petrusev added 20 and No. 2 Gonzaga rolled past North Carolina 94-81 on Wednesday, handing the Tar Heels their fourth straight loss.
One of the most highly anticipated games ever inside Gonzaga's gym was a party most of the night for the home team. The Bulldogs (12-1) won their fourth straight since suffering their only loss of the season against Michigan in the final of the Battle 4 Atlantis.
More importantly, the Zags finished off an unbeaten stretch of three marquee games at Washington, at Arizona and against the Tar Heels.
“I'm just glad it's over. I've been hearing about this thing for six months from all our fans, in a good way. They were excited,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.
Garrison Brooks led North Carolina (6-5) with 16 points, but the Tar Heels have dropped four straight for the first time since the 2009-10 season. It's been a brutal stretch for the Tar Heels with the Zags the fifth opponent ranked in the top 10 in North Carolina's past six games.
“Needless to say we didn't play as well as we needed to play and I didn't coach as well as I wanted to coach,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.
Then there's the injuries. North Carolina learned Monday it would be without star point guard Cole Anthony for four-to-six weeks following surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus in his right knee. Anthony sat during Sunday's loss to Wofford as did guard Leaky Black. Black returned Wednesday and had six points in nine minutes.
North Carolina also played the second half without Brandon Robinson, who was feeling ill. He played 16 minutes of the first half and didn't score.
“I would love to have Cole with us because he was playing better than anyone else,” Williams said.
Having Anthony and a completely healthy roster might not have mattered.
Kispert and the Zags were ready from the start to put on a show for maybe the toughest ticket in school history. Students stuck around rather than going home for winter break and filled “The Kennel Club” long before tip-off. They were treated to 40 minutes of Gonzaga domination in just the Zags second home game in a month.
Kispert was the leader with a nearly perfect first half, hitting 6 of 8 shots including a trio of 3-pointers. It was his fourth straight game in double-figures after being quieted by Michigan.
Kispert made 10 of 12 shots overall. But he wasn't alone. Gonzaga shot 59% and five players in double figures. Joel Ayayi, Ryan Woolridge and Admon Gilder all finished with 11 points.
“Like coach said, every win against North Carolina is a good win, whenever, however they look,” Petrusev said.
While Anthony didn't play in the loss to Wofford, the Tar Heels now know they need to make up for his scoring for at least a month. Anthony is averaging 19.1 points to rank second nationally among freshmen and has been the Tar Heels’ best player at creating his own shot. He led the team in scoring in six of his nine games this season, starting when he had 34 points against Notre Dame for the most points ever by an Atlantic Coast Conference freshman in his first game.
“I still believe we can be a good team. We just can't let this stretch define us,” Brooks said.
North Carolina: In an effort to make up for the loss of Anthony, Williams went deep into his bench. North Carolina played 11 players in the first half alone trying to overcome foul trouble and find a grouping that could add some punch on the offensive end.
Gonzaga: The Zags are 6-4 in their past 10 games against ACC teams. Their last three wins over ACC foes are Duke, Florida State and now North Carolina.
“Coach Williams deserves all the credit for this. For him to bring a storied program; they could sit at home and play all home games. they could do whatever the hell they want. But he's one of those guys like Tom Izzo that goes out and really, really challenges his team. I think he does it not only to help his team but I think he also understands how important it is for college basketball that these big time games need to happen.” — Few on hosting North Carolina.
North Carolina: Face UCLA on Saturday in Las Vegas.
Gonzaga: Host Eastern Washington on Saturday.
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