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Gonzaga Basketball

Gonzaga knows it can rely on Johnathan Williams to apply defensive pressure

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Johnathan Williams guarded Xavier point guard Quentin Goodin, wings J.P. Macura, Malcolm Bernard and Trevon Bluiett and centers Tyrique Jones and Kaiser Gates.

No, not at the same time, but during the course of Gonzaga’s 83-59 rout last Saturday, the 6-foot-9 Williams defended every position on the court.

“Everybody from point guard to the ‘5,’ ” coach Mark Few marveled. “It’s not just the athletic piece and how he moves, but mentally he concentrates and is dialed into the scouting report as much as anybody.

“It’s a real treat and luxury to have somebody like that.”

So don’t be surprised if – probably more a matter of when –Williams matches up against South Carolina star Sindarius Thornwell.

The 6-foot-5 Thornwell is a strong, crafty penetrator who lives on the foul line and has made 11 3-pointers in the NCAA Tournament.

“I feel like I’ll guard him a little bit,” Williams said. “I just have to make life hard for him, can’t let him get easy buckets.”

The Zags have had a number of defensive stoppers over the years. Eric McClellan (2016), Gary Bell Jr. (2015), Mike Hart (2013), Robert Sacre (2012), Erroll Knight (2005), Mark Spink (2001) and Mike Nilson (2000) were WCC defensive players of the year.

“Mike is probably the only thing comparable, but he didn’t have quite the versatility as J3,” Few said.

Williams limited South Dakota State’s Mike Daum, the nation’s second-leading scorer, to 17 points, eight less than his average. Williams also played a key role in holding Bluiett, who averaged 25 points in three NCAA games, to 10.

“I just tried to make life hard for him, just like the South Dakota State kid,” Williams said. “You can’t stop everything but if you make life hard for them, that’s even better.”

Thornwell, the SEC player of the year, will be one of the toughest challenges GU has faced this season.

“The hardest person to guard is somebody who has a nice jump shot and is quick off the bounce,” Williams said. “I feel like (Thornwell) can shoot extremely well and he’s also quick off the bounce. He’s basically a guard, but he also plays the ‘4.’ ”