Corey Kispert and No. 1 Gonzaga didn’t get their 1-2 matchup on a neutral court with a national TV audience.
What amounted to the replacement against the most recent NCAA champion worked out just fine.
Kispert scored a career-high 32 points and tied a school record with nine 3-pointers, leading the Zags to a 98-75 romp over 16th-ranked Virginia on Saturday.
Kispert was 9 of 13 from long range, including one about a foot from the midcourt logo followed immediately by another from several feet behind the arc in the year-old Fort Worth arena that is supposed to host the American Athletic Conference tournament in March.
“He’s as good a shooter as I’ve ever coached, and like I said, nobody’s worked as hard as Corey has at mastering his craft, and yet, he’s incredibly unselfish,” coach Mark Few said of his senior guard. “I think it’s very fitting that he’s right there in the record books for that particular stat.”
Drew Timme also had a career high with 29 points and led the Zags (7-0) with eight rebounds in a homecoming game for the former Dallas-area high school player.
Gonzaga now has the nation’s longest neutral-site winning streak at seven games and has beaten four ranked opponents before the start of conference play for the first time in school history.
Kihei Clark scored 19 points and Trey Murphy added 15 for the Cavaliers (4-2), who dropped to 1-31 all-time against top-ranked teams almost 35 years since their only victory.
The matchup of one of the best offenses in the country against one of the best defenses wasn’t much of a contest, with Gonzaga shooting 60% with superior ball movement and screening. Virginia hadn’t allowed an opponent to shoot better than 40% this season.
“We needed this,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said when asked if a 1,200-mile trip for an added game was worth it for the program that won the 2019 NCAA Tournament before last season’s event was canceled by the pandemic.
“We need to play against some teams that are high, major caliber. This was the first time and we weren’t ready for it. It was too much. You can’t hide forever. This was important but painful. I wish it wasn’t as poor of a showing as it was.”
The Zags’ offense was so efficient, Bennett tried to slow it by using a timeout three times when the media break was set for the next dead ball. The last of those came after Kispert’s two long 3s and a putback from Timme that put Gonzaga ahead 62-38 early in the second half.
“You’ve just got to be really aggressive, yet super confident,” said Kispert, who was 11 of 15 from the field. “There’s an old saying that you’re never more open than when you first catch the ball. So a lot of my shots didn’t really touch my hands for very long.”
The Cavaliers barely avoided giving up at least 100 points for the first time since a 106-63 loss to Washington on Nov. 22, 2010, Bennett’s second season. Virginia had three straight games scrapped because of COVID-19, including against No. 5 Villanova and 12th-ranked Michigan State. The Cavaliers returned with a 76-40 win over William & Mary on Tuesday.
The Zags didn’t cool off at all in the second half after Kispert came out hitting 3-pointers almost from the start. Gonzaga shot 68% after halftime to beat Virginia for the third time in four meetings in the series. It was the first meeting in 14 years.
The Cavaliers had nine of their 15 turnovers in the first half and were outscored 19-3 on points off turnovers before the break as the Zags took their first 20-point lead about 14 minutes into the game.
“They’re the best we’ve played by far and appear to be well-deserving of that ranking, but if you don’t care of the ball … it’s hard enough to stop them,” Bennett said. “They really exposed some things we have go to work on and try to shore up. That was discouraging for sure.”