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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s 2017 Final Four win over South Carolina

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It took a complete team effort to advance to the program’s first appearance in the national championship game.

South Carolina v Gonzaga Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

This was a really fun rewatch, and the first time I watched this game since it actually happened three years ago. There were a lot of special moments sprinkled throughout, from Nigel Williams-Goss’s iconic flex after converting an and-1 midway through the second half, Zach Collins converting the “ugliest 3” he’s ever made, according to him, to a baby faced Killian Tillie coming in cold off the bench to ice the victory. Here’s what else I took away from the second viewing of this game:

  1. It’s still unreal to me that the #10 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft came off the bench for the entire season for Gonzaga. It’s easy to forget how developed Zach Collins was offensively and how elite he was a defender. He had six blocks in this game, and probably forced an additional six misses by the Gamecocks just by altering shots at the rim. In my mind, this was the performance that sealed his lottery credentials, and the Zags definitely don’t win the game without him. His three to end SC’s run, the high-low pass to feed Przemek Karnowski late, and his defense and rebounding were all crucial to securing the win.
  2. Silas Melson was held scoreless in the second half, so it’s easy to forget that he was tremendous in the first half. He hit a pair of threes early off the bench, which helped the offense maintain the spacing for the bigs inside until Williams-Goss and Mathews got going in the latter stages of the first half.
  3. Speaking of Williams-Goss and Mathews, they were en fuego during the middle 20 minutes of the game spanning both halves which allowed the Zags to establish that comfy double digit lead. The Gamecocks somehow held Williams-Goss scoreless over the final 10 minutes of the game, and their press disrupted Gonzaga’s ability to get the ball inside with the guards under pressure, which allowed them to get back in the game and set up the tight finish.
  4. I can’t even imagine what a nightmare it was for opposing teams to scheme for and play the Zags at both ends of the floor. A wealth of big men all with varying skill sets who could lock down the interior and three of whom could switch out on the perimeter, a pair of ball handlers, a deadly spot up shooter, and two really strong defensive guards. Imagine if Rui Hachimura was closer to the guy he was as a junior at this time.
  5. South Carolina got away with not doubling Gonzaga right away in the post thanks to the benefit of a lot of leeway from the referees in terms of physicality. The Gamecocks only sent help late to avoid defensive breakdowns. But no matter how you played this team, they figured out the right method to break down the opposition. Fortunately, smart and selfless basketball has been a trademark of Gonzaga’s team over the years.
  6. I miss watching Przemek Karnowski’s post passes. His interior passing was absurdly good.
  7. I did not remember the disparity in points off turnovers in this game. The Gamecocks had 15 points off GU turnovers while the Zags had none. Hard to survive that.
  8. Considering how good Gonzaga’s defense was, I still can’t believe South Carolina reeled off a 16-0 run in under four minutes. Completely nonsensical.
  9. So proud of Mark Few for employing the right end-game strategy by having Perkins foul to send Sindarius Thornwell to the free throw line with 3.5 seconds left and the Zags up by three points. That’s the right move in that situation, but it still requires proper execution. Perkins made sure to foul under seven seconds, and before Thornwell began his shooting motion, and then Tillie made sure to get the defensive rebound off the intentional missed free throw. It would have been a disaster if the Zags didn’t ge the rebound.
  10. Shoutout to freshman Tillie coming in cold off the bench to secure that big rebound and then ice the game at the other end. There is a long list of NCAA stars who have wilted under similar conditions. Not #33.