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Firsts keep coming for Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga guard Nigel Williams-Goss shoots between Santa Clara’s Jared Brownridge, left, and K.J. Feagin, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, in Santa Clara, Calif. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)
Gonzaga guard Nigel Williams-Goss shoots between Santa Clara’s Jared Brownridge, left, and K.J. Feagin, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, in Santa Clara, Calif. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

In this season of firsts for the Gonzaga Bulldogs, time to add a few more.

The Zags will play at home as the nation’s No. 1 team for the first time in program history when Santa Clara visits the McCarthey Athletic Center on Saturday.

Gonzaga’s rise to No. 1 in 2013 came after the conclusion of the regular season.

The program also has a new name at the top of the all-time wins list. Gonzaga’s 85-75 road victory over BYU on Thursday gave senior center Przemek Karnowski 123 career wins, one ahead of his former teammates Kyle Dranginis and Kevin Pangos.

Karnowski’s career mark is 123-13. Pangos finished 122-20, Dranginis 122-21.

Karnowski took it in stride when he reached 122 career wins after the rout over Pepperdine last Saturday.

“I’ve been here forever, I’ve been here a long time,” the fifth-year senior said. “I’m happy that when I’m here we keep winning, it’s all about that.”

Karnowski on Friday was named one of 10 finalists for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, presented annually to the top center in college basketball.

The 7-foot-1 center had a big offensive rebound with 90 seconds left, leading to a pair of Nigel Williams-Goss free throws that helped Gonzaga hold off BYU. Williams-Goss poured in 33 points as the Zags earned their program-record 23rd consecutive victory.

One of those wins came in dominating fashion against Santa Clara just over two weeks ago. Karnowski and Zach Collins combined for 35 points in 37 minutes as the Zags rolled 88-57. The two posts combined to make 10 of 13 shots and 15 of 17 free throws.

The Broncos, though, have pieced together a solid WCC season. They thumped Portland on Thursday to move into a tie for third with BYU at 7-4. Santa Clara (13-11 overall) lost to BYU by 30 in its conference opener in late December before upsetting the Cougars last week.

Gonzaga is back at full strength with the return of freshman forward Killian Tillie. He played 12 minutes against BYU after missing the previous two games with a sprained ankle.

“It feels good to be back,” Tillie said. “I did a good job with Josh (Therrien, trainer) to come back as quick as possible.”

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