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Gonzaga Basketball

Six key moments that shaped Gonzaga’s greatest basketball season

UPDATED: Sat., April 8, 2017, 10:21 p.m.

From left: Jordan Mathews hits a key 3 against West Virginia; Nigel Williams-Goss and GU suffer first loss to BYU; Josh Perkins celebrates against Arizona; Johnathan Williams and the Zags endure the title game loss to North Carolina; Zach Collins celebrates against South Carolina; and Przemek Karnowski overpowers Iowa State. (Dan Pelle, Colin Mulvany / SR)
From left: Jordan Mathews hits a key 3 against West Virginia; Nigel Williams-Goss and GU suffer first loss to BYU; Josh Perkins celebrates against Arizona; Johnathan Williams and the Zags endure the title game loss to North Carolina; Zach Collins celebrates against South Carolina; and Przemek Karnowski overpowers Iowa State. (Dan Pelle, Colin Mulvany / SR)

The season opener was 30 seconds old and Nigel Williams-Goss already had a pair of buckets and Jordan Mathews drilled a 3-pointer.

Gonzaga led Utah Valley 8-0 and the Zags’ 2017 mesmerizing season was off and running.

They took their show on the road, winning the AdvoCare Invitational in Orlando, Florida, turning back No. 16 Arizona in Los Angeles and holding off Tennessee in Nashville, Tennessee. They thumped 17 straight WCC opponents by double digits.

Could the Zags finish the regular season undefeated? Could they make the program’s first Final Four? Could they win it all?

The answers can be found in the six key games and magical moments that shaped Gonzaga’s greatest season.


Gonzaga players hold the Advocare Invitational Championship Invitational Trophy after defeating Iowa State 73-71 on Sunday, Nov. 27 in Orlando, Florida. (Willie J. Allen Jr. / AP)
Gonzaga players hold the Advocare Invitational Championship Invitational Trophy after defeating Iowa State 73-71 on Sunday, Nov. 27 in Orlando, Florida. (Willie J. Allen Jr. / AP)

1. Gonzaga 73, Iowa State 71

Gonzaga’s 18-point lead in the AdvoCare title game had been whittled to three by No. 21 Iowa State when Zach Collins buried a 3-pointer with 5:36 remaining.

That would be the Zags’ last field goal, but their defense kept denying ISU’s offense.

The Zags needed one last defensive stand and they got it, forcing Monte Morris’ after-the-buzzer 3-pointer that was off line.

“We had our young, mobile group out there (Collins and Killian Tillie) that can move their feet pretty darn good,” coach Mark Few said. “I thought they’d drive something to the basket, but they’d have to do it against a switch and do it against one of our 6-10 or 7-foot guys.”


Gonzaga forward Zach Collins slams over Arizona, Dec. 3, 2016, in the Staples Center. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga forward Zach Collins slams over Arizona, Dec. 3, 2016, in the Staples Center. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

2. Gonzaga 69, Arizona 62

The Zags beat nemesis Arizona in the Staples Center, relying on Przemek Karnowski’s 18 points and two late baskets by Williams-Goss.

Gonzaga led by 16 early in the second half against a program that had won six of the previous seven series meetings. The Wildcats were within six when Williams-Goss drove on 7-footer Lauri Markkanen for a layup.

Gonzaga’s lead was five with just more than a minute left when Williams-Goss made a clutch runner in the lane.

“He’s ready to step up at any time,” guard Josh Perkins said of Williams-Goss, who scored 10 points while battling foul trouble.


The Gonzaga bench and guard Nigel Williams-Goss, left on the court, feel the pain of their first loss in the finals seconds against BYU, Feb. 25, 2017, at the McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
The Gonzaga bench and guard Nigel Williams-Goss, left on the court, feel the pain of their first loss in the finals seconds against BYU, Feb. 25, 2017, at the McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

3. BYU 79, Gonzaga 71

BYU ended Gonzaga’s run at regular-season perfection. The Zags led 18-2 in the first 5 minutes and were up 58-46 midway through the second half.

The Cougars rallied behind Erik Mika (29 points) and TJ Haws (17). BYU scored the last 10 points.

BYU celebrated its third consecutive win at the McCarthey Athletic Center. Gonzaga made just 16 of 29 free throws.

“Obviously, we haven’t been in that situation,” Williams-Goss said. “I don’t think we executed as well as we could have. We have to learn from it and get better going down the stretch.”


Gonzaga guard Jordan Mathews  hits a 3-point shot over West Virginia’s Elijah Macon in the finals moments to give the Zags a lead over West Virginia in the second half of their NCAA Sweet 16 game, March 23, 2017, in San Jose, California. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga guard Jordan Mathews hits a 3-point shot over West Virginia’s Elijah Macon in the finals moments to give the Zags a lead over West Virginia in the second half of their NCAA Sweet 16 game, March 23, 2017, in San Jose, California. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

4. Gonzaga 61, West Virginia 58

Gonzaga and West Virginia were locked in a defensive struggle in the Sweet 16. Jevon Carter made a 3-pointer to give the Mountaineers a 58-55 lead with 1:40 remaining.

The Zags scored the last six points, starting with two Williams-Goss free throws. Perkins swatted 6-9 forward Nathan Adrian’s layup attempt to give GU possession. Mathews hit one of the biggest shots in the program’s postseason history, a 3-pointer to put Gonzaga on top 60-58.

“I didn’t see it (go in),” said Mathews, whose shot was contested by 6-9 Elijah Bacon. “I was fading away. I heard everybody’s reaction.”

Gonzaga’s defense was stout in the closing 90 seconds. Carter misfired twice on the Mountaineers’ final possession and the clock ran out before they could attempt a third 3-pointer.


Gonzaga players Rem Bakumas, center, Przemek Karnowski, left, and Killian Tillie celebrate Saturday’s win over South Carolina in their NCAA Final Four game in Phoenix. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga players Rem Bakumas, center, Przemek Karnowski, left, and Killian Tillie celebrate Saturday’s win over South Carolina in their NCAA Final Four game in Phoenix. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

5. Gonzaga 77, South Carolina 73

The Zags weren’t satisfied with just making the Final Four for the first time. They spent the first 29 minutes carving up South Carolina’s defense, building a 65-51 lead.

It vanished in less than 4 minutes as the Gamecocks rattled off 16 unanswered points to take a 67-65 lead. Gonzaga got a break when Collins’ 3-pointer momentarily pinned against the backboard and rim before tricking through the net.

“I’ve never seen a shot go in like that before, but I’m happy it did,” said Collins, who had 14 points, 13 rebounds and blocked six shots.

Karnowski scored two baskets on feeds from Williams-Goss and Collins and Gonzaga was on top 72-67. Tillie’s rebound and two free throws sealed GU’s 37th victory.


Gonzaga guard Nigel William-Goss has his shot blocked by North Carolina forward Kennedy Meek in the final seconds, Mon., April 3, 2017, in the NCAA national championship game, in Glendale, Az. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga guard Nigel William-Goss has his shot blocked by North Carolina forward Kennedy Meek in the final seconds, Mon., April 3, 2017, in the NCAA national championship game, in Glendale, Az. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

6. North Carolina 71, Gonzaga 65

Gonzaga led the national championship game 65-63 with less than 2 minutes remaining after another clutch Williams-Goss basket. He scored the Zags’ last eight points.

North Carolina, which opened the second half with an 8-0 run, captured its sixth national championship with a closing 8-0 spurt.

Justin Jackson’s three-point play gave UNC the lead 66-65. Isaiah Hicks made it a three-point lead with a basket in the lane. Williams-Goss rolled his right ankle with 1:25 left, the same one he tweaked two days earlier against South Carolina, and his shot was rejected by Kennedy Meeks, leading to a Jackson’s clinching dunk with 12 seconds left.

“We’re in the game, right there, and it makes it hurt even more,” guard Silas Melson said. “We worked our tails off. We just came up short.”



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