Just hours before the first leg of the Gonzaga-Portland doubleheader was set to tip off, the Portland Pilots found out their leading scorer and senior point guard, Alec Wintering, would miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL suffered on Thursday night against San Francisco. By the end of the game, it was Gonzaga fans waiting with bated breath about the condition of their own starting point guard, Nigel Williams-Goss, who limped off the court with about 5 minutes left in the game and did not return.
Gonzaga fans can be forgiven for thinking that without Wintering, Portland would be dead in the water on the road against the nation’s last undefeated team. While Gonzaga did end up winning 73-52 to stretch their program best record to 19-0, credit should be given to the Pilots for rallying and putting up a valiant effort in the Kennel.
Portland’s Jazz Johnson stepped in for Wintering in terms of offensive usage, finishing with 12 points on 4-16 shooting, and he was joined in double figures by Gabe Taylor (13 points), and Rashad Jackson (10 points). In a rare occurrence, Gonzaga finished the game with only two players scoring in double figures. Nigel Williams-Goss led all scorers with 15 points (3-11 FG), and Przemek Karnowski chipped in with 12 points (6-9 FG).
The Zags raced out to a 10-1 lead in the first three minutes of the game, and it seemed like things would get out of control for the Pilots fairly quickly. However, perception doesn’t always meet reality. After a quick timeout, Portland set out to do everything in their power from letting Gonzaga find a rhythm, and they were successful.
Beautiful basketball was hard to come by in this contest, with a highlight reel dunk from Johnathan Williams early in the first half proving to be the highlight of the night. After that, both teams spent a lot of time bricking shots and scrapping for loose balls, with Portland seeming to get the majority of the 50/50 balls as they fought hard to make up for the loss of Wintering.
After failing to establish much of a post presence in the first half with the Pilots set on packing the paint in order to force the Zags to beat them from the perimeter, the Bulldogs were able to finally string positive possessions together in the second half as they did a better job spreading Portland out and getting the ball to Karnowski in the post.
Despite finally getting back to the script and pushing the lead past 20 points, things weren’t all sunshine and rainbows by the end of the game.
What could be the most significant play of Gonzaga’s season took place with about 5 minutes left in the game when Nigel Williams-Goss drew a foul on a drive attempt and landed hard on his left hip. Williams-Goss got up and sank 1 of 2 free throws, but he was not moving well and was in clear distress as he moved around the court. With a dead ball fortunately coming moments later, Williams-Goss headed off the court and straight for the locker room with a trainer in tow. He did not return.
The rest of the game played out without incident, and attention rightfully turned to news about Nigel Williams-Goss’s condition. More panic probably set in around the fan base after reports that Williams-Goss was on crutches in the locker room, but in post-game interviews, he downplayed the fall.
Williams-Goss pt. 1: "Just went baseline and went up and got hit. When I landed, I kind of landed on my hip, but I think I’ll be alright."— Jim Meehan (@SRJimm) January 22, 2017
Williams-Goss pt 2: I think it's something like a bone bruise. I don’t expect it to be anything more serious than that."— Jim Meehan (@SRJimm) January 22, 2017
Fortunately, it doesn’t sound like Williams-Goss will miss extended time, or any time for that matter. With significant injuries striking top teams all around the country in the last week, Gonzaga seems to have dodged a bullet. But, this will certainly be a situation that bears monitoring over the next few games.