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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga takes time to celebrate championship, look ahead

March 8, 2017 Updated Wed., March 8, 2017 at 7:27 p.m.

Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski hoists the WCC tournament championship trophy after Tuesday’s win over Saint Mary’s. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski hoists the WCC tournament championship trophy after Tuesday’s win over Saint Mary’s. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

LAS VEGAS – The execution on the court was on point and so was the post-game celebration.

The buzzer sounded on Gonzaga’s 74-56 win over Saint Mary’s in the WCC tournament title game Tuesday and the Zags raced toward the center circle hopping and bouncing around like human pinballs, Rui Hachimura’s hang-time impressive as always.

About 20 feet away, Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett zipped down the sideline as if the team bus was double-parked outside Orleans Arena. He barely managed a walk-by handshake with Gonzaga counterpart Mark Few.

Bennett later declined to make an opening statement at a press conference, saying, “Yeah, we’ll just take questions.”

The mood was brighter with the Zags, who took turns posing with the championship trophy. Senior center Przemek Karnowski brought a souvenir to his locker-room cubicle, a poster with a caricature of the big man that read: “Warning: The Shem is Hungry and He Will Be Fed.”

The Shem is happy and hungry for more.

“The trip last year here to Vegas was my first trip after the (back) surgery,” Karnowski said. “I didn’t know if I was going to come back but I told myself if I did I want to make sure we win the regular season and the conference tournament.

“We did it, and I’m really happy about it. It’s been an awesome run. We have to get some rest and get ready for the Madness.”

Saint Mary’s, which couldn’t miss in Monday’s semifinal win over BYU, couldn’t connect against the Zags in the first half and over the final 10 minutes. Saint Mary’s, which rarely turns the ball over, coughed it up 10 times in the opening 20 minutes and turned the ignition on Gonzaga’s transition game.

Tournament most outstanding player Nigel Williams-Goss had six steals, several prompting beeline drives to the rim at the other end, even if the Gaels had defenders cluttering the paint.

“I’m trying to put pressure on the defense,” he said. “Coach (Mark Few) told us to come out and let it rip for 40 minutes. I feel I’m at my best when I’m in attack mode.”

The Zags weren’t at their best for lengthy stretches in wins over Pacific and Santa Clara, but they took apart No. 19 Saint Mary’s in the title game.

“We didn’t play well the first two games, especially with our emotions and our passion,” Karnowski said. “I’m really happy how we came out (against the Gaels), the first 10 minutes, and then we kept it on them basically the entire game.

“That’s what we need to do in these big games.”

The biggest games are on the horizon as the Zags’ await their 19th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. Gonzaga’s seeding and bracket will be revealed Sunday.

The Zags seem entrenched as the No. 1 seed in the West Region, which probably means a trip to Salt Lake or Sacramento. Saint Mary’s (28-4) is positioned for an at-large selection. Few said there is “no question” the Gaels should be in the tournament. Three of Saint Mary’s losses were to the Zags when they were ranked fifth, first and fourth.

Karnowski and Silas Melson believe the Zags have done enough to merit a top seed. Josh Perkins felt the same, but expressed it in a different way.

“Like I said last year, it’s just a number next to a team name,” the sophomore guard said. “I think we’re the best team on the West Coast. We have to come ready to play whatever number we get.”

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