The North Carolina Tar Heels finally made their way to The Kennel, and got the full experience for their trouble as the Gonzaga Bulldogs nearly ran them out of the gym in a 94-81 win and in front of a crowd eager to welcome one of college basketball’s “blue bloods” to their humble abode.
Gonzaga’s balance and versatility was on full display, with Corey Kispert shining brightest on the evening as he put together a near-perfect performance with 26 points (10-12 FG, 5-6 3PA). Filip Petrusev anchored the Zags inside with 20 points and 3 blocks, while the backcourt trio of Joel Ayayi, Ryan Woolridge, and Admon Gilder all chipped in 11 points apiece. Killian Tillie added 9 points despite spraining his ankle on Saturday, willing to play through discomfort to take part in one of the most anticipated games in program history.
Garrison Brooks was the only UNC starter in double figures with 16 points, as the Tar Heels dropped their fourth game in a row and move to 6-5 in a season of transition for Roy Williams.
Despite being down their star point guard, the Tar Heels put their best foot forward to open the game and stayed step for step with their hosts for awhile. Both defenses must have thought tipoff was later in the evening, with buckets easy to come by at both ends of the floor. Playing at their preferred uptempo pace, the Zags and Heels exchanged baskets through the first 10 minutes of the game. Ultimately, however, Gonzaga’s talent overwhelmed the depleted Heels.
Jump-started by a Kispert three-ball (one of many on this evening) and some slick passing from Ayayi, Gonzaga reeled off a 14-4 run to build a 31-23 lead and gain separation from their visitors. Without Cole Anthony pulling the strings, UNC found it increasingly difficult to initiate any semblance of an offense as Gonzaga’s defense began to turn up the pressure, flipping the script on the Heels and manufacturing transition opportunities to grow the lead as high as 14 in the first half.
If not for a sloppy finish to the opening segment by the Zags, the game could have been put to bed early enough for UNC fans to turn off the TV and go to sleep. Alas, Tar Heel enthusiasts were forced to endure a second half that saw Gonzaga flex its muscle (figuratively and literally) and demonstrate why it deserves the #2 next to its name.
The Zags tore apart UNC’s defense in the second half with their unselfish ball movement and balanced attack. Without the ability to keep pace with Gonzaga’s high-powered offense, the Heels watched the deficit balloon to a 23-point gap while Gonzaga fans went on Ayayi triple-double watch.
Though the century mark was well within reach, the Bulldogs geared down, though not before the The Kennel Club unleashed a clever chant of ‘We Want Wofford’ to cap off a momentous night for the program.
It’s no consolation for 2017, but the Zags should be pleased with how they capitalized on the opportunity presented to them. That’s what elite programs do, and that’s what Gonzaga has been for years now.