LAS VEGAS – There aren’t many sure things in life but Gonzaga has made reaching the WCC tournament final – and the NCAA tournament, for that matter – nearly look routine.
But there was nothing routine or easy about the fourth-ranked Zags’ 77-68 victory over scrappy Santa Clara on Monday in the WCC tournament semifinals.
The Zags will face second-seeded Saint Mary’s, which hammered No. 3 BYU 81-50, in Tuesday’s championship game.
No. 1 seeded Gonzaga (31-1) flirted with the idea of blowing out the Broncos (17-16) but found ways to keep it interesting, whether it was missing a defensive assignment or allowing an offensive rebound.
“It’s March,” said guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who had 25 points and eight rebounds. “Everyone is playing for their lives, playing to see another day. We’re expecting a fist fight every time out.”
Santa Clara, behind senior guard Jared Brownridge’s creative scoring flourishes, cut into GU’s 15-point lead and was within five with 9 minutes remaining.
The Zags responded with a 6-0 run to push their lead back to double digits. Santa Clara made another Brownridge-driven run – he scored all eight points in an 8-2 spurt – as SCU closed within 68-63 with 2 minutes left.
Williams-Goss hit a clutch 3-pointer on his first attempt of the game. Zach Collins followed with another 3 to help the Zags close it out.
“We called a double ball-screen and they got confused on the coverage and I was wide open,” Williams-Goss said. “I have all the confidence in the world I can make that shot.”
On the next possession, Williams-Goss drew two defenders and passed to Collins.
“I work on that shot all the time,” Collins said. “I just wanted to come in and give us some points, more of a cushion.”
Przemek Karnowski had 19 points and seven boards. The Zags shot 58 percent from the field, but struggled behind the 3-point line (1 of 8 before Williams-Goss’ and Collins’ late 3s).
Brownridge, who scored 32 points, kept the Broncos within striking range in the first half by hitting four buckets over Collins and another over forward Killian Tillie on defensive switches.
“I was kind of playing off him, thinking I could use my length,” Collins said. “I learned real quick he just needs a little bit of room and he’s letting it go.”
The Zags rattled off 10 unanswered points, the last six by Williams-Goss, to open up a 34-24 lead. The margin reached 11 on Karnowski’s three-point play but Brownridge drained a long 3 just before the buzzer to cut Gonzaga’s lead to 37-29.
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