Gonzaga senior forward Corey Kispert (24) drives to the basket in the Bulldogs' 85-62 victory against USF at the McCarthey Athletic Center Saturday night.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs kicked off their West Coast Conference schedule with a 85-62 victory over the San Francisco Dons. Corey Kispert led all scorers with 26 points on 9-for-11 shooting from the field. 

In a tightly contested battle early on, point guard Andrew Nembhard provided a much-needed spark for the Bulldogs. The transfer from Florida made his presence felt immediately off the bench with a midrange jump shot followed by a three pointer on the next possession in the first minute of action. An impressive crossover leading to another three-point shot from Nembhard gave GU a 23-16 lead midway through the first half. 

“I know my role on this team,” Nembhard said, who finished with 14 points. “Whether it’s starting or coming off the bench, I know I’m ready to go.” 

Then it was Kispert’s turn to take over. Despite the Dons defense limiting outside shots for Kispert, the senior found success attacking the paint and converting around the rim, as he accounted for 12 consecutive points for the Zags. He capped off a stellar first half with a buzzer beater from the Northern Quest logo near the midcourt line. 

“He’s everything that you would want out of a senior,” Coach Mark Few said about Kispert. “He’s developed way more confidence and he’s become more confident putting the ball on the deck.” 

Led by their leading scorer Jamaree Bouyea, the Dons managed to remain within striking distance throughout the first 20 minutes of action. The senior topped off his 16-point first half performance with a three-pointer that cut USF’s deficit to three points with just over a minute before the break. 

Bouyea however would not find the same rhythm in the second half, as he was held to just two points. 

“We just locked into our scouting report,” Nembhard said. “It was a team effort; everyone came to play.” 

The Zags would rattle off seven straight points to take a 47-37 lead heading into the locker room. Both teams’ offense showcased their ability to score by shooting over 53% from the floor. 

GU carried their momentum into the second half with an 11-5 scoring run to open the period. Aggressive defense would lead the way to quick transition baskets for Kispert and company as the lead ballooned to 17 points. 

“We were able to settle down and reinforce our plan,” Few said. 

The quick start was just the beginning of an avalanche; the Zags would outscore the Dons 38-25 in the half while extending their lead to 29 at one point. 

Sound team defense, inside scoring and fastbreak points continued to fuel the Zags’ offense in the second half. The Dons’ three-point attack was stifled by GU down the stretch; a 4-for-6 first half was limited to a 4-for-17 outing in the second half. 

GU’s electric pace would result in 23 fastbreak points as well as 44 points in the paint. 

Drew Timme and Anton Watson prevented any consistent paint penetration from USF. The sophomore forward duo hustled to contest shot after shot, including two emphatic blocks from Watson. The Dons would finish with 24 points in the paint and shot 38.9% from the floor. 

“It was a great second half of defense against a potent offense,” Few said. 

Joel Ayayi continued his trend of dominance on the glass, as he finished with 18 points with 10 rebounds. Timme also had a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. 

The Bulldogs take the floor against the Santa Clara Broncos Thursday, Jan. 7, at 6 p.m. in Spokane. Fans can watch the game on ROOT Sports or KHQ. 

Cole Forsman is a staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @CGForsman.

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