SAN JOSE, Calif. – Seconds after West Virginia missed its final shot at a chance for overtime on Thursday, Gonzaga’s celebration ensued.
Josh Perkins ran to the sidelines and jumped on head coach Mark Few. Players jumped up from their seats on the bench and sprinted to the center of the court. They pounced around from teammate to teammate, hugging each other and pounding their chests.
But Nigel Williams-Goss pulled away from the group and walked stiff-legged near the sidelines.
For a moment, the standout guard held his fist up to his chest and looked up at all the Gonzaga fans in the stands, unable to move. He couldn’t get himself to turn back to his teammates on the court who continued to celebrate their Sweet 16 victory. Several of the Zags ran up and hugged the guard from behind, but Williams-Goss held his gaze on the stands.
Perkins finally knocked Williams-Goss out of his whirlwind of emotions and wrapped his arms around the junior guard in celebration. Williams-Goss couldn’t seem to let go.
“It just really hit me hard after the game,” Williams-Goss said on Friday. “Once the game is over and you understand that you’re advancing to the Elite Eight and are now 40 minutes away from our ultimate goal, which was to get to Phoenix, you’re just kind of overcome with so much emotion.”
And rightfully so, being that it was only the third time in school history that Gonzaga earned the right to play in the Elite Eight.
Getting to that point in the NCAA Tournament is never easy, of course – the Zags seem to understand that better than most – and Williams-Goss’ ride to the round of eight has been one of the bumpiest.
In GU’s three games in the tournament, Williams-Goss has drained only 12 shots from the field. He’s missed 30. He’s also hit only 1 of 8 on 3-point attempts.
Before the Zags started the NCAA Tournament in Salt Lake City, Williams-Goss had a 52.1 percent shooting average from the field and was hitting 37.2 percent of his shots beyond the arc.
Williams-Goss shined the most at the line in the regular season. He topped the West Coast Conference in free throws after hitting 73 of 79 attempts in conference play and is 15th in the nation for his overall performance at the line this year, shooting 89.5 percent. The guard went on a streak this year with 43 consecutive makes at the line before he missed a shot against Santa Clara in the WCC semifinal earlier this month.
In the NCAA Tournament, Williams-Goss has hit 77.7 percent of his free throws (14 of 18). Two of those misses came in Thursday’s game against the Mountaineers when Williams-Goss was handed eight opportunities at the line.
Even with so much riding on the guard’s shoulders to lead a team in what could be a historical run in the NCAA Tournament, Williams-Goss said doesn’t feel the pressure. And he’s certainly not paying attention to the noise about his offensive slump in the postseason.
And neither is anyone else on the team.
“There’s more to him than just scoring. Nigel is one of our best and most consistent perimeter defenders. He rebounds the ball pretty well every night,” Gonzaga assistant coach Tommy Lloyd said.
Williams-Goss has led the team in two NCAA Tournament games on boards, pulling down a total of 22 for the Zags. Only Johnathan Williams has grabbed more, 23, in the last three games.
Lloyd said he knows Williams-Goss will get back on track on offense, and he doesn’t have to defend Williams-Goss’ ability to get the shots to fall again. For that, he points to the guard’s stats this year.
“With his shooting, we’re kind of playing the law of averages,” Lloyd said. “We’re waiting for the uptick. And it’s coming.”
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