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Gonzaga leans on experience for success

The Zags have done this dance before, and it should help them make it until last call.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Gonzaga vs South Dakota State Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

There are few teams in the country that possess the type of institutional basketball knowledge that Gonzaga’s starting five does.

This year’s Bulldogs team might just be the one to finally get to the Final Four for the first time in school history — a fitting chapter in what’s been a dominant 19-year run for Coach Mark Few and company.

What separates this year’s Bulldogs roster from those of the past is its glut of on-court experience.

Take, for instance, Thursday’s starting five for the Bulldogs in Thursday’s 66-46 win over South Dakota State, which included two seniors, two juniors and a sophomore.

It isn’t often in today’s one-and-done college basketball landscape that you see a roster so full of experienced players, but Few and company have just that this year.

Few, who’s posted a record of 499-112 in his 18 years in Spokane, believes his team’s experience has been a plus this season.

“There’s a real learning curve, especially with freshmen, learning just how hard they have to play,” Few said. “We’ve got a game and then we’ve got to turn around and practice again. And taking the preparation, scouting plans and those things … I think that’s sometimes difficult for freshman.”

Few can rely on a strong core to carry the team forward on most nights, but has found his most consistent scoring threat in six-foot-three-inch junior Nigel Williams-Goss.

Williams-Goss, who grew up in Happy Valley, some 11 miles from Portland, has bounced around a bit during his college career.

The junior excelled under former Washington Coach Lorenzo Romar in Seattle for two years, averaging 14.5 points per game, while also dishing out 5.1 assists as well.

He’s found a way to one-up his UW stats in his first season with Few, however, putting up a team-high 16.6 PPG and 5.8 rebounds, both career highs, while also averaging 4.4 assists as well.

Few praised Williams-Goss’ effort on Friday, despite struggling from the field against South Dakota State, scoring nine points on 4-13 shooting against the Jackrabbits.

“(Nigel) brings everything to the team,” Few said. “I don’t know that he played that bad yesterday. I mean his leadership, his communication, his toughness, he’s probably our best perimeter defender, probably the best rebounder at the guard spot, all that.”

Having a good time

Williams-Goss says playing for Few was one of the best decisions he’s made, and that the town of Spokane’s enthusiasm for Bulldogs basketball is unmatched.

“I’ve been a lot of places and just the reception that you get when you walk down the street,” Williams-Goss said Thursday. “Not just as basketball players, but I feel like it’s a real sense of community here in Spokane.”

Nigel-Goss revels in the chance to snap the school’s well-publicized Final Four drought, and the opportunity to do something unprecedented in the Inland Northwest.

“We’re just excited to have the opportunity to finish off what we all came here for and the vision that we had for ourselves starting the season,” Nigel-Goss said. “No pressure, just really excited and ready to play.”

This was a guest piece from Christopher Boan, a writer over at AZ Desert Swarm. You can follow him on Twitter at @cgboan.