The magic continues, and the Gonzaga Bulldogs are now 40 minutes away from a national championship.
The Zags rode their defense and a balanced offensive attack led by a stellar game from Nigel Williams-Goss (23 points) to end South Carolina’s Cinderella run and win 77-73.
With the Bulldogs and Gamecocks ranked as the top two teams in the nation in defensive efficiency, this game was billed as a defensive grinder going into the contest. However, it was the respective offenses that found their footing at the outset of the game. Halfway through the first half half, Gonzaga was shooting 57% (19-33) from the field while its defense got enough stops at the end of the half to push South Carolina down to 37% (13-35).
Nigel Williams-Goss, the man who has keyed Gonzaga’s attack all season got things started on the game’s first possession with a smooth mid-range jumper and he hit the Gamecocks with his deadly floater throughout the first half. Przemek Karnowski, Johnathan Williams, and Zach Collins all got themselves on the scoresheet early as the Zags made a concerted effort to pound the ball inside and capitalize on their size advantage.
South Carolina wasn’t content to let Gonzaga have all the fun, as their less-heralded offense looked to have no problem against the stingy defense of the Bulldogs. SEC Player of the Year Sindarius Thornwell got the plaudits going into the game, and rightfully so as he has carried the scoring load for South Carolina all season. But, in the first half it was Thornwell who struggled and his teammates who picked him up.
Gonzaga’s defense eventually started to gain traction in the last few minutes of the first half, but the rockfight we all expected eventually emerged. Karnowski was forced to leave the game late in the first half after getting raked across the face on a Chris Silva block. But instead of folding while their anchor was getting treatment in the locker room, the Zags launched a 14-5 run with contributions up and down the lineup that gave them a 45-36 lead going into the break.
Bulldog fans received good news out of the break as Karnowski returned after receiving treatment on his right eye during intermission.
The return of Karnowski allowed Gonzaga to run its offense through the post again, and his impact was felt immediately as he converted a putback basket and followed it up with a patented kick-out pass to a wide open Williams-Goss who drained a three to push Gonzaga’s lead to double digits.
Gonzaga’s three-point shooting, which struggled early in the tournament, found the mark repeatedly throughout the night. Sweet 16 hero Jordan Mathews went 4-7 from the arc, while Williams-Goss and Silas Melson both chipped in a pair.
With 10 minutes left in the game, the Zags looked to be in firm control until the Gamecocks, who had overcome tall odds all tournament long, found new life thanks to a 16-0 run over a three minute stretch that woke up their fans and erased Gonzaga’s 14-point lead.
In need of answers, it was the freshman Collins (14 points, 13 rebounds, 6 blocks) who came up big for the reeling Zags with a much-needed 3-pointer to break the drought followed by a phenomenal high-low pass two possessions later to feed Karnowski for a nice finish at the rim. On the other end of the floor, it was Collins who repeatedly turned away South Carolina’s drivers in the closing minutes to help Gonzaga hold on to its narrow lead.
With only 12 seconds remaining and a 75-72 lead, the Zags perfectly executed a late game foul that sent the Gamecocks to the line with 3.5 seconds left. Thornwell hit the first free throw and appeared to intentionally miss the second, but Killian Tillie collected the rebound and then hit the two biggest free throws of his life to give the Zags a 77-73 lead and send the Gonzaga Bulldogs to the National Championship game.
Gonzaga is still dancing. See you on Monday night.