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Even during holiday break, basketball court never far away for Gonzaga players

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 26, 2019

Gonzaga forwards Corey Kispert  and Killian Tillie (33) high-five at the end of a 72-66 win over Texas Arlington on Nov. 19, 2019, at the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga forwards Corey Kispert and Killian Tillie (33) high-five at the end of a 72-66 win over Texas Arlington on Nov. 19, 2019, at the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Gonzaga is in the midst of a nine-day span between games, but the Zags won’t go nearly that long away from basketball.

It’s the players’ longest in-season break and probably the longest pause since a team retreat prior to the season. Still, habits are habits for a reason, and most Zags planned on getting in some court work before the first post-Christmas practice on Friday.

“I’m more than ready (for a break),” said sophomore forward Filip Petrusev, a Serbian native who stayed in town with his family visiting Spokane, following the Zags’ Dec. 21 game against Eastern Washington. “It was great to finish it off the right way (with a 112-77 victory over EWU), but I never just rest.

“I’m probably going to take a couple days off and then come back in, get some shots up and get some work in.”

Gonzaga is riding a five-game winning streak, including road wins over ranked Pac-12 foes Washington and Arizona and a home victory over North Carolina after falling to Michigan in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game.

The top-ranked Zags (13-1) entertain Detroit Mercy (2-10) on Monday in their final nonconference matchup. Gonzaga then settles into West Coast Conference play with Thursday-Saturday games each week except solo-game weeks vs. Pacific (Jan. 25) and away against Pepperdine (Feb. 15).

Gonzaga faces the first of its three WCC split weeks (one home game, one away game) with a trip to Portland next Thursday and a home date with Pepperdine two days later.

“We need a break,” coach Mark Few said following the EWU game. “We need to get away from basketball, and physically we need to see if we can get some of these guys rounding back into shape.”

Topping that list is senior forward Killian Tillie, who missed the season’s first four games following October knee surgery and suffered a sprained ankle in the second half against Arizona on Dec. 14. Admon Gilder (knee) and Anton Watson (shoulder) are also battling injuries.

“I don’t know, man – ankle, knee, mind, everything,” Tillie said of his priority list before practice resumes. “But I’m excited for this break, just try to heal my body up real quick. I’ll still do some things but probably not much. I’ll probably do more in the weight room and less basketball.”

Junior wing Corey Kispert leads the team in playing time with nearly 454 minutes, 32.4 per game. Senior point guard Ryan Woolridge is next at 439 minutes and 31.4 per game. Sophomore guard Joel Ayayi is third with 399 minutes, 28.5 per game, despite only starting the last five games.

“I’m not going to touch a basketball for a couple of days,” Kispert said. “I’m going to sit on my couch, chill and eat good food.”

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