Nigel Williams-Goss didn’t play in Saturday’s blowout win over Santa Clara because of a sore ankle.
Gonzaga’s junior guard did play Thursday on a sore ankle in the second half. He torched BYU for 24 of his 33 points in an 85-75 road victory on national television.
That should move him up in the rankings. Like the Zags’ methodical march to No. 1 in the polls, Williams-Goss has been gaining ground in the weekly ratings for college basketball’s player of the year produced by a handful of national websites.
Williams-Goss made his first appearance in the top five in an ESPN survey of Wooden Award voters last week. He was No. 7 in another, No. 9 in another. One outlet noted that he “absolutely needs to be in the conversation” for player of the year.
Of course, it’s overdue. The University of Washington transfer has been rock solid for the Zags since they formally launched this unbeaten journey by winning the AdvoCare Invitational in Orlando over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Williams-Goss was MVP of the tournament after putting up 40 points, 15 rebounds and 15 assists in three wins. He connected on six 3-pointers in the title-game win over Iowa State, including one that stopped Iowa State’s 15-0 surge in the second half.
Timing can be everything in life, rankings and awards. The Zags (24-0) appear unfazed by the increased attention from the No. 1 ranking and their pursuit of an undefeated regular season.
Williams-Goss’ timing has been exceptional on GU’s biggest stages. He didn’t play well against Arizona in early December but he made the game’s two most important baskets in the Zags’ 69-62 win. He drove inside on 7-footer Lauri Markkanen with 3:15 left to boost GU’s lead to eight. He penetrated for another field goal with 1:08 remaining to extend the lead to seven.
In the Zags’ two closest – relative term – WCC games, Williams-Goss was unstoppable in a 36-point eruption at San Francisco and repeatedly delivered timely buckets to thwart BYU rallies. He had 19 points and six assists in the rout over rival Saint Mary’s.
Villanova’s Josh Hart (18.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 3.4 apg) and Kansas’ Frank Mason III (20.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 5.2 apg, 52.5 percent on 3-pointers) are the leading candidates for player of the year.
Williams-Goss, health willing, seems likely to continue Gonzaga’s recent string of All-Americans (Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis, 2016 AP honorable mention; Wiltjer 2015 second-team AP, Kevin Pangos third-team; Kelly Olynyk, 2013 first-team AP).
Don’t count Williams-Goss out of the player of the year race. The spotlight Gonzaga is operating under affords him an opportunity to climb the rankings.
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