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Corey Kispert back on track as Gonzaga entertains USF to open second half of WCC season

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 26, 2018

Gonzaga wing Corey Kispert powers inside against Portland center Philipp Hartwich during the first half Thursday. (Craig Mitchelldyer / Associated Press)
Gonzaga wing Corey Kispert powers inside against Portland center Philipp Hartwich during the first half Thursday. (Craig Mitchelldyer / Associated Press)

Corey Kispert was back to being Corey Kispert on Thursday, one of the most promising developments for Gonzaga during a 95-79 road victory over Portland.

Kispert has been on a roller-coaster ride since spraining his ankle against Incarnate Word. He missed a couple of games and hobbled around in several others once he returned. The true freshman wing lost his starting job to Zach Norvell Jr. and then hit a rough patch with his perimeter shooting.

Kispert’s ankle is healthy now, but his game was still on the mend.

“It’s a big mental thing, believing you can get back to the place you were and sustain it,” said Kispert, following his season-high 23-point effort. “I’ve been working all month with the coaches on my shot, getting in the gym a lot. It took a little longer than I wanted to get going again, but I’m really thankful to have the game we did (Thursday).”

The 15th-ranked Zags (18-4, 8-1 WCC) are thankful for the timing, too, as they dive into the second half of conference play against San Francisco (12-10, 4-5) at 5 p.m. Saturday.

Kispert went scoreless against Saint Mary’s and Santa Clara prior to Thursday’s contest. He sparked his outside game by first getting to the rim. He scored in transition and then on a drive down the lane.

He misfired on his first four 3-pointers before burying one in the final 30 seconds of the half. That opened the floodgates and he struck for two more 3s and 16 points in 14 second-half minutes.

“I was talking with the coaches all week,” Kispert said. “They all believed in me and they were saying, ‘Corey, we know your big games are around the corner.’ ”

Gonzaga has numerous big games around the corner, beginning with Dons’ visit. The Zags’ 10-point win over USF is their closest in eight conference wins.

San Francisco brings a two-game winning streak, including a 69-67 victory over Pacific on Saturday. USF hasn’t trailed since falling to Santa Clara three games ago.

Guards Jordan Ratinho, Souley Boum and Frankie Ferrari combined for 56 points in USF’s Jan. 13 contest. The Dons run elements of the Princeton offense with backdoor cuts and constant motion.

“They run some intricate action and both times we’ve had them on short prep,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.

Wing Chase Foster and forward Taavi Jurkatamm returned to the USF rotation against Pacific. Both were injured and missed the first meeting with Gonzaga. Foster is second on the team in scoring (10.9), rebounding (4.8) and made 3-pointers (35).

“They played us tough,” Zags guard Silas Melson said. “We kind of beat ourselves up a little bit, making our own mistakes. We have to come out tighter because the second time playing a team they’re always going to play you tougher, as Portland and Santa Clara did.”

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