LAS VEGAS – The 3-point shot can be the great equalizer in college basketball.
It was for Santa Clara for a good portion of Monday night’s WCC tournament semifinal against Gonzaga.
But it’s still tough to be beat high-percentage shots taken from the shadow of the rim.
No. 4-ranked Gonzaga couldn’t hit from long distance for the longest time – really until it mattered most – but it ruled the lane in a hard-fought 77-68 win over the Broncos at Orleans Arena.
At times it seemed Santa Clara was outscoring Gonzaga 3-2 on each teams’ trip to the offensive end.
But two-pointers can add up quickly and send a team’s shooting percentage soaring. The Zags made 26 of 42 two-point attempts, a 62-percent clip, and scored 42 of their first 58 points in the paint.
“You want to start inside out,” said junior forward Johnathan Williams, who had 11 points. “You don’t want to start at the 3-point line because that’s a long shot. You want to start with easy shots and get yourself going that way.”
The interior dominance kept Gonzaga in front, despite repeated rallies by the Broncos. With the Zags’ lead down to 68-63 inside the final 2 minutes, they finally found the range beyond the arc. Nigel Williams-Goss and Zach Collins buried 3-pointers to get GU to the finish line.
“When we’re able to get inside and get easy layups, the outside shots might start falling because you’re seeing the ball go in more and more,” Williams said.
Had this been a track meet, Gonzaga’s 46 paint points would have been responsible for about 80 meters of the 100-meter race.
“Our offense was tremendously efficient, which kept us rolling right along,” coach Mark Few said.
Paint points imply low-block dominance, and Gonzaga certainly had its share with Przemek Karnowski, Zach Collins, Killian Tillie and Williams combining to make 16 of 23 two-pointers.
Williams-Goss again demonstrated his flair for floaters in the lane. He worked over smaller defenders, penetrating and scoring or drawing fouls. His streak of 43 consecutive free throws came to an end, but he still made 6 of 8.
The Zags piled up fouls against the undersized Broncos – SCU forwards Nate Kratch and Emmanuel Ndumanya played with four fouls for most of the second half – and capitalized by going 16 of 20 at the stripe.
And consider that the inside production is coming at a time when the Zags are struggling from the perimeter. Before Williams-Goss’ and Collins’ late-game heroics, GU was mired in a 9-of-38 stretch on 3s in its last three games.
That doesn’t create much space for the bigs to operate. Pacific had success in the first half of Saturday’s game with a packed-in zone.
“They try to sandwich the post,” Williams said. “You want to throw ball inside to Przemek, but we still have to find ways to score and we did, out of me driving or Z-bo (Collins) shooting the 3. We found ways to get the ball inside and get quality shots.”
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