No Nigel, no problem?
Not exactly. It’s always an issue, or at least a potential one, when lining up without the best player on the team and one of the top players in the nation.
And it was a problem for roughly the first nine minutes for No. 1 Gonzaga, which didn’t have Nigel Williams-Goss on Saturday against Santa Clara. At that point, Gonzaga was down 16-12 when KJ Feagin hit Santa Clara’s third 3-pointer.
But the Zags quickly found their stride with a 25-7 run to close the half and they cruised to a 90-55 victory at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Williams-Goss sprained his ankle in the first half against BYU on Thursday. It went largely unnoticed as he poured in 24 second-half points to carry Gonzaga to an 85-75 win at the Marriott Center.
He mentioned his ankle was starting to bug him in a post-game interview and it apparently didn’t respond to treatment, including wearing a protective boot on Friday.
“His ankle was really, really sore,” coach Mark Few said. “It was sore Friday, and then we tried to put him through as much treatment as we could. He worked out again (Saturday) afternoon and it was just really sore. We’re just trying to be safe with it.”
The points didn’t come as easily in the opening minutes without Williams-Goss, the team’s best penetrator who scores a lot of his points with floaters in the lane or by drawing fouls.
Williams-Goss has also been one of the team’s best defenders, though it receives far less publicity than his impact at the offensive end.
Silas Melson started for Williams-Goss and the junior guard again demonstrated his versatility. Melson scored two baskets, didn’t turn the ball over in a team-high 33 minutes and helped slow down Santa Clara’s Jared Brownridge, one of the top scorers in WCC history.
The absence of Williams-Goss also opened up time for Bryan Alberts, who has averaged just 6.3 minutes and had DNPs in five games. Alberts finished with three points and three assists. He played turnover-free for 16 minutes and did a solid job defending Brownridge.
“I think I can add that to the team a little bit, my defense,” Alberts said. “He’s really tough. I thought I guarded him well and he hit me on one in the corner.”
Over the final 30 minutes, Gonzaga, led by Williams-Goss’ backcourt running mates Josh Perkins and Jordan Mathews, lit up SCU’s defense. The duo created open looks for teammates, particularly the bigs.
The frontcourt quartet of Przemek Karnowski, Zach Collins, Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie combined for 43 points on 17-of-27 shooting against the Broncos’ overmatched interior.
By the end, the Zags’ point total (90), field-goal percentage (60.8), assists (20), paint domination (40-28) and defense (allowed 55 points on 39.6-percent shooting) were in the neighborhood, or even better, than their season averages.
All with their marquee player on the sideline.
“Our best player sitting out, just goes back to the depth and guys are ready to step up at any time,” Perkins said. “Obviously we’re a better team with Nigel and we need him out there, but the team played really well defensively and offensively.”
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