SAN JOSE, Calif. – Gonzaga wasn’t at its best while winning its first three games in the NCAA tournament.
But the Zags were on Saturday when it mattered the most.
They looked like the November through February Zags, the squad that steamrolled opponents with precision offense and suffocating defense.
They did it on the biggest stage – so far – with an 83-59 beatdown of Xavier at the SAP Center that locked up the program’s first Final Four.
“This team is built on team ball,” freshman center Zach Collins said. “We did it as a team. Based on what the media was saying that we weren’t going to make it, we didn’t play a tough schedule, we weren’t battle-tested, I think we proved them wrong.
“I think we’ve had a couple games where we were up and down a lot (in the NCAA tournament), but we put 40 minutes together.”
- READ ALSO: 3 keys to the Bulldogs’ 83-59 win
Not Saturday. Gonzaga led 49-39 at half, and still wasn’t satisfied. The killer instinct the Zags demonstrated most of the season was on full display.
The Zags’ 10-point lead reached 16 in the first 90 seconds of the second half. It was 20 midway through the half.
“We said at halftime we haven’t even been playing our best basketball,” junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss said. “We came out in the second half with something to prove and we really didn’t let off the gas.”
It was a 40-minute microcosm of their season, staying true to the identity they’ve forged while compiling a school-record 36 wins.
It was Williams-Goss hitting his trademark floaters, stuffing the stat sheet and willing home four 3-pointers. Jordan Mathews connected from distance and offered up another strong defensive effort, an underrated aspect of his game.
Silas Melson played adhesive defense and knocked down a 3 when a Musketeer defender dared him to shoot. Przemek Karnowski, despite foul trouble, hit a couple of jump hooks and had three assists on kick-out passes. Collins blocked one shot and added three baskets, one a resounding dunk off a feed from fellow freshman Killian Tillie.
Josh Perkins buried three 3s, including a couple early that softened up Xavier’s defense, and snagged a season-high six rebounds.
“I’m not a stat guy,” Perkins said. “I’ll do whatever it takes to get a win. If that’s to not take a shot, take a charge, whatever. They needed me to take 3s and make 3s, and I did that.”
Johnathan Williams was everywhere – driving, dunking and swatting shots. When his shoe slipped off his foot after missing a shot, he calmly put it back on, raced down court just in time to grab one of his eight rebounds.
Williams deflected the credit when asked why he was so effective against Xavier’s ever-changing defensive looks.
“We have Jordan and Josh shooting great, Nigel putting down 3s,” Williams shrugged. “It kind of spaced the court for me so I had driving lanes.”
In other words, team ball. GU banked 40 more minutes against Xavier.
- SEE ALSO: The Spokesman-Review and Pediment partner to publish hardcover book on Gonzaga’s breakthrough 2016-17 season
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