The South Carolina Gamecocks are going to have a problem on their hands. If the Zags win, their national title opponent is going to have a problem on its hands. Nigel Williams-Goss has finally woken up this NCAA Tournament, and he is ready to carry the squad to the very end.
NWG has been the best player on one of the best teams in the nation for the entire season, but the first NCAA Tournament (on the court) of his career made it seem like the stage might have been a bit too big for him. The difference in play, especially on the offensive end, was oh too clear.
His line on the year stands at 16.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 4.6 assists off of 49 percent shooting and 88 percent shooting from the free throw line. He is ranked No. 5 in Ken Pomeroy’s Player of the Year rankings. He is a Wooden Award Finalist, a Bob Cousy Award Finalist, a Naismith Award Finalist, an (insert your award name here) Finalist. Nigel Williams-Goss, hands down, is one of the top 10 players in the country.
But in the first three (and borderline four) games of Gonzaga’s 2017 NCAA Tournament run, you necessarily wouldn’t have noticed it—at least on the offensive end. Against West Virginia, it is understandable. Their defense made life a living hell for everyone. But the other two games...it is a bit harder to overlook.
In his first three NCAA Tournament games, NWG averaged 13 points, but he shot just 28.5 percent from the floor doing so. Even the free throw shooting slumped (a bit), hitting 78 percent from the charity stripe. He was also just 1-of-8 from three point range.
Things changed against West Virginia, specifically in the final play of the game. Jevon Carter had been hitting the big shots all game to keep the Mountaineers in it, and with the final seconds ticking down, it was Nigel Williams-Goss who draped himself all over Carter on defense.
Williams-Goss didn’t lend Carter an inch of room on three separate occasions, and that defensive stop (combined with THE SHOT) punched the Zags ticket to the Elite Eight. Afterwards, Silas Melson revealed that NWG had asked for the honor of having the game carried on his shoulders.
“I was going to guard him and he told me, ‘No, I’m going to take him,” Melson said. “It takes big nuts for someone to step up and say, ‘I’m locking this dude up for the last 30 seconds,’ [when he] just hit a big-time three and had been balling the whole game.”
That sequence might have been all that was necessary for NWG to finally realize his tournament self, which is the person that torments offenses all over the place. Against Xavier, NWG finished with 23 points, eight rebounds, four assists, and not a single turnover. It was a vintage game from the Gonzaga junior, and one that was so desperately needed.
Granted, Williams-Goss shot just 3-of-12 from two point land, but most importantly, he was 4-of-7 from long range. He matched the aggressiveness of the Xavier guards tit for tat, and his ability to force defenses to cover him all over the court stretched the Musketeers all afternoon.
The Zags have made it to the Final Four, and they finally showed all of that promise against Xavier. This is problematic for South Carolina, because when even without Williams-Goss, the Zags have basically been unbeatable. When he is on, there is not much hope for the opposition.