“Gonzaga is headed to the Final Four.”
And with that Brian Anderson statement seconds after the Bulldogs’ 83-59 Elite Eight victory over Xavier ended on Saturday, Zags fans around the nation could finally breathe.
The quest had been fulfilled. The destination assured. And, as Charles Barkley said a few minutes later from the TBS studio, a simian dispatched.
“I am really happy for coach (Mark) Few,” Barkley told America, “because he finally gets that monkey off his back.”
And with that, can we please kick the primates to the curb.
And focus on the trip to Phoenix.
TBS’ Anderson, who teamed with former Michigan star Chris Webber on the San Jose regional, set the table early Saturday night.
“A former underdog turned powerhouse, the top seed in the West, Gonzaga,” is how he contrasted the Zags with the Cinderella – yes, he used that word – story of 11th-seeded Xavier.
And as the Bulldogs methodically took the Musketeers out of their game en route to their 36th win this season, Anderson and Webber took turns pointing out Gonzaga’s strengths.
The Missouri transfer was, as Anderson described him midway through the second half, “the best player on the floor tonight.” He scored 19 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked three shots.
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But it started with, as Webber correctly pointed out, “the hustle plays.”
Five of Williams’ rebounds came on the offensive glass, as Xavier couldn’t answer his aggressiveness.
Without fouling, actually, though the next foul the Musketeers commit may be the first they acknowledge.
Their coach, Chris Mack, picked up a technical in the second half after another empty Xavier possession. For some reason Webber followed up the ‘T’ by saying “I’m sure he has a legitimate gripe.”
Which probably made everyone watching in Spokane do a double take and ask, “What?”
No matter. Nothing was going to get in Gonzaga’s way this night.
Not Xavier’s leading scorer Trevon Bluiett, who finished eight points under his 18-point average on 3-of-14 shooting as Williams also was the point man in that regard.
Not Gonzaga’s bigs, Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins, battling foul trouble all night.
Certainly not the young lady who found herself on national TV when Josh Perkins stole a pass with about 4 minutes left and thought he had an uncontested layup. Except the member of the court cleanup crew was wiping down the key and had to retreat faster than Xavier’s transition game.
Watching Perkins’ facial expression on replay, Webber thought Perkins must have been thinking, “Wait, you’re playing defense?”
And Webber correctly pointed out “she’s going to be on the Internet all night.”
So will the Zags, at least if Clark Kellogg has the pulse of the nation correct.
“There are lot of people in the world of college basketball that are celebrating with this program,” he said in the postgame, “because they’ve seen them knock on the door (so often) and not quite get there.”
And it was Few who has been doing the knocking for the past 18 seasons. So, When Lewis Johnson grabbed Few for the postgame interview, you might have expected some welling up, if not outright tears. But that didn’t happen.
Instead, he was analytical as always and deflected the limelight.
“It means everything,” he told Johnson, “that we could deliver for guys like this,” gesturing toward Williams and Nigel Williams-Goss, who led everyone with 23 points.
And it was Williams-Goss leading the way when asked what making the Final Four meant.
“It’s been such a crazy journey,” Williams-Goss said, talking about the past two years since his transfer from Washington. But the crazy journey has been a lot longer than that. It’s been since 1999, when Gonzaga had its first Final Four shot and came up a shot or two short.
It’s been that long as Spokane has waited to hear the words, “Gonzaga is headed to the Final Four.”
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