SAN JOSE, Calif. – The last question asked of anyone involved in Gonzaga’s 61-58 win over West Virginia belonged to Bulldogs coach Mark Few, who turned to Johnathan Williams and broke a cardinal sports writing sin: Leading an interviewee with a statement rather than a question.
“Talk about breaking down the pressure as a (forward) when our guards have been bringing it up all year,” Few said.
“How hard was it for you?” Przemek Karnowski chimed in thoughtfully.
That the 6-foot-9 Williams was able to relieve pressure on Nigel Williams-Goss by receiving inbounds passes – often over a WVU defender – and passing the ball up the floor or dribbling it up himself, was arguably his most important contribution in a game in which he scored 11 points in the first half while attempting just four shots.
“It was pretty hard,” Williams told his coach. “But I worked on it during the whole week, and the coaches gave me the game plan, and I tried to do the best I can to not turn the ball over, that’s all.”
Williams had just one turnover in 25 minutes.
By the numbers: Take a numerical look at how the Zags and Mountaineers stacked up on Thursday evening
The Bulldogs did not exactly solve WVU’s press, but they were not crippled by it. The Mountaineers force about 20 turnovers a game, and the Bulldogs gave it up 16 times on Thursday. But the Mountaineers only stole the ball five times in the game, the same number of times the Zags did.
“I thought we handled the press probably as well as you could,” Few said. “We had a couple of foot faults. Those frustrate me because we work on those daily. … But by and large, these guys handled it very, very well.”
Having an athletic forward bring the ball up the floor threw a wrench in WVU’s press because it made different defenders than usual cover the length of the floor. But the Bulldogs could not rely on Williams to bring it up every time, particularly since he sat much of the first half in foul trouble.
Nor could the Bulldogs simply turn the keys over to Williams-Goss, who played 38 minutes in the grueling game and occasionally struggled to maintain control, turning the ball over five times.
Three keys to Gonzaga’s 61-58 victory over West Virginia for a berth in Saturday’s Elite Eight
To that end, Few turned to Josh Perkins as another option. Perkins only attempted one shot in the game on which he was not fouled, a reverse layup that he missed. But he played a key role for the Bulldogs in getting the ball up the court quickly and initiating fast breaks, which is a large part of the battle when playing the Mountaineers.
“I thought Josh Perkins managed a heck of a game at the point position,” Few said. “I mean, he got through that game under heavy, heavy pressure with only one turnover, which is not easy.”
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