Josh Perkins started every game last year at point guard for Gonzaga.
Nigel Williams-Goss ran the show for two seasons at Washington and led the Pac-12 in minutes played in 2015.
Still, he didn’t hesitate when choosing to transfer to a Gonzaga program with an incumbent point guard.
“I felt 100 percent comfortable with how it would play out after they showed me the offense,” Williams-Goss said.
“I hosted his (recruiting) visit,” the redshirt sophomore said. “The whole time I told him to come, we can do this together.”
Two players comfortable with the ball in their hands, co-existing and thriving at Gonzaga? Sounds familiar.
The launch of Gonzaga’s remarkable 18-year streak of NCAA tournament appearances came in 1999 with Matt Santangelo and Quentin Hall sharing point guard duties.
A few years later, Dan Dickau and Blake Stepp tormented Zags opponents. A few years after that, Derek Raivio and Jeremy Pargo lined up together. More recently it was Kevin Pangos and David Stockton, the latter usually handled the point with Pangos shifting to shooting guard.
“My question is, how does is not work?” assistant coach Tommy Lloyd said. “If each guy knows how to make decisions and has a good feel for the game and a willingness to move the ball, it should make it pretty easy.
“You’re going to have the ball in a great decision-maker’s hands at least 40 percent of the time. You have to make sure one or both can shoot the ball. We have that this year.”
Perkins and Williams-Goss have made a swift, seamless transition on the court. No. 4 Gonzaga (17-0) ranks in the top 22 nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio, field-goal percentage, 3-point percentage and scoring offense.
“Not surprised at all,” Dickau said. “I’ve had a chance to get to know both of them being around the program (as a former player and current TV analyst). They’re both really smart players. They both get it. Two good players that are going to figure out you do these things really well, I do these things really well.”
Another factor in the pair’s success at both ends of the floor is their size. Both are 6-foot-3 and in the 195-pound range.
“They have size that I don’t think (GU’s) other combination of guards had,” Dickau said. “They’re both pretty big and smart enough to play the gaps.”
Williams-Goss leads the team in scoring (15.2) and assists (4.8). He’s shooting a career-high 41 percent beyond the 3-point arc.
Perkins checks in at 9.9 points, 3.6 assists and his 47-percent accuracy from distance puts him among the WCC leaders for the second straight season.
“With our offense, coach (Mark Few) stresses getting multiple ball screens,” Williams-Goss said. “When you have Josh on one side and me on the other, both ball screens are equally effective and it really puts the defense in a tough position.”
There are no set rules on who brings the ball up. A quick glance usually tells both players all they need to know. Williams-Goss trails Przemek Karnowski by two rebounds for the team lead so often an outlet pass isn’t necessary.
Otherwise, it might depend on which side of the rim the rebound is secured or who is closest to the ball. That player usually gets the outlet pass while the other sprints for the other end.
Using two point guards simultaneously also helps the Zags deal with full-court or extended pressure.
“A lot of people want to play point guard because they think it’s about leading the fast break or getting the ball screens,” Few said. “But it’s more about breaking pressure down, organizing the club and getting into the right spots and getting back on defense.
“The nonsexy stuff.”
Williams-Goss and Perkins rank 1-2 on the team in minutes played, but sharing responsibilities has helped both stay fresh.
Perkins, however, tweaked his back and was limited to 16 minutes in Saturday’s win over Saint Mary’s. He said after the game he expects to play this week.
“Bringing the ball up is definitely something that takes a toll,” Perkins said. “It takes a lot of energy, but I think we can transfer some of that saved energy to the defensive end. We’ve picked it up on the defensive end and that’s a good sign.”
“The energy you save is crazy,” Williams-Goss added. “And I think you get easier shots playing off the ball.”
Perkins and Williams-Goss expect their comfort level will continue to grow, a safe bet considering their performance to this point.
“We’re not out there thinking, we’re just playing,” Williams-Goss said. “It’s gotten to a point where it’s second nature.”
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