It didn’t come easy, but good things rarely do. Thanks to a hard-fought 77-73 win over the South Carolina Gamecocks, the top-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs secured their place in the final game of the season in their first appearance in the Final Four.
Nigel Williams-Goss had 23 points to lead the Zags, while Zach Collins was a giant in the final six minutes of the game to help his team survive a final Cinderella push from a South Carolina squad that made the comeback victory its calling card during the course of the NCAA Tournament. Collins finished the game with 14 points, 13 rebounds, and 6 blocks.
The Zags didn’t find themselves in a lot of close games over the course of the season, but they didn’t wilt even as the Gamecocks came roaring back with a 16-0 run late in the second half to erase a 14-point Gonzaga lead. It was Collins who ended the bleeding with a three that dropped in off the back iron, allowing Gonzaga to edge back in front by the narrowest of margins. But that margin held up over the final five minutes, thanks in part to a slew of clutch plays from Collins and a pair of free throws that freshman Killian Tillie iced with two seconds left in the game to seal the deal for the Zags.
Despite the credentials of both defenses, the offensive units for both teams had no trouble scoring in the opening 20 minutes of the game. To no one’s surprise, Gonzaga pounded the ball inside early and often, but it was the backcourt trio of Silas Melson, Jordan Mathews, and Williams-Goss who did the most damage as they helped Gonzaga enter halftime with a 45-36 lead by capitalizing on South Carolina’s overcommitment to defending the post.
The Zags maintained a double-digit cushion through the first 10 minutes of the second half, with Williams-Goss pushing all the right buttons to keep his team comfortably on track to play in its first national championship game.
But the Gamecocks didn’t make it to the Final Four by accident, and they used the same blueprint to claw their way back that they used in the previous rounds. After Williams-Goss completed a three-point play with just over 10 minutes left to play, South Carolina succeeded at preventing him from scoring again while also reeling off a 16-0 run over a four minute stretch to take the lead in front of a stunned crowd.
The Gamecocks forced Gonzaga into some mistakes, and also capitalized on some friendly whistles to help push their run along. But in the end the depth of talent, led by a transcendent Collins, at Mark Few’s disposal was too much to overcome and the Zags survived to find themselves with a shot at a national championship against North Carolina two days later.