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TV Take: Gonzaga passes latest test – announcers, officials not as much

Gonzaga guard Nigel Williams-Goss (5) dribbles to the basket against BYU guard Elijah Bryant in the first half during an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, in Provo, Utah. (Jeff Swinger / Associated Press)

Nigel Williams-Goss did just about everything for the Gonzaga Bulldogs on Thursday night in Provo. Thirty-three points. Seven rebounds. Four assists. Solid defense.

And that’s not all. He also helped out ESPN.

After the Zags had survived BYU’s upset effort, 85-75, the junior transfer summed up the game as well as any of the five folks the network had working the ESPN2 broadcast.

“We finally got tested,” Williams-Goss said from Provo during a postgame interview with Adnan Virk, stationed back in the Bristol studios. “It’s been awhile since we were in a close battle like this.”

The test came in many forms, from the 18,987 raucous fans, who seemed to feel the Cougars never committed a foul, to the officiating trio, who seemed to agree with them after intermission, through BYU’s spirited second-half effort.

And those sitting at home were tested as well, dealing with all of the above, as well as listening to play-by-play man Eric Rothman and analyst Adrian Branch.

It’s not that Branch and Rothman don’t play it fair. Well, maybe they don’t. They seemed pretty enamored of the Zags.

It might be GU’s newly minted No. 1 ranking. Or it might be the duos’ familiarity, having broadcast a few Zags games already – including last Saturday’s blowout at Pepperdine. Whatever, they had little negative to say about Gonzaga.

But the pair seemed to notice some crucial elements a bit late, including a BYU defensive change with 13 minutes left that changed the tenor of the contest. Trailing 56-40, BYU coach Dave Rose called time out, put his team in a 1-3-1 zone, and hoped.

Though Branch was to tell us later the Zags had worked against the alignment in their shoot-around, Williams-Goss turned it over – one of his rare errors on a night he seemed to make every big play Gonzaga needed – and BYU began a 7-0 run that got the Cougars back in it.

It took Branch some 3 minutes after it happened to acknowledge the change and give us the nugget learned at practice.

But he was wide awake with 9:53 left when Williams-Goss made a key bucket on an inbound play BYU forgot to defend. As is his way, however, Branch offered BYU was “falling asleep on the offensive end,” as the play occurred.

Rothman had his share of missteps as well, missing Killian Tillie’s first appearance on the court for more than 3 minutes as well.

But neither were as up-and-down as Randy McCall, Greg Nixon and Verne Harris, the three veteran officials who, at times, seemed tired of hearing the crowd boo every call against the Cougars.

Throughout BYU’s early second-half comeback, when it cut a 16-point deficit in half, each whistle seemed to be aimed at Gonzaga. At one point it was 6-1 in favor of the Bulldogs, and not in the good way.

Maybe Branch had it figured out. With 3:17 remaining, TJ Haws drove the baseline and seemed to have his shot blocked by Tillie.

  • Also today: Take a look at Gonzaga’s 85-75 win over host BYU by the numbers

Except McCall called it a foul.

“Good players are going to make good plays,” Branch said. “That looked like that was a good block in traffic, but because Haws plays so hard, always moving forward, he’s able to get to the free throw line.”

Sounds like as good an explanation as any.

By that time, Branch was into it like he hasn’t been in any of the previous Gonzaga games he has done.

“It feels like I’ve played 35 minutes,” he said late, “with all the intensity and energy in this place.”

He hadn’t, but Williams-Goss had – that and five more. And yet he still had his pulse on what had just happened.

“I think the maturity of our group and us just staying together,” he answered Virk when asked how Gonzaga had been able to hold on. “You know, we genuinely love each other. We are a tight-knit group and I think it shows when we get tested with adversity.”

It was the 23rd consecutive time this Gonzaga group had passed a test. And another time it was Williams-Goss who had supplied all the answers.