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Gonzaga Basketball

Madness memories: Gonzaga comes up just short of finishing off dream season

Gonzaga guard Nigel Wiliams-Goss holds his head after losing to North Carolina on April 3, 2017, in the NCAA national championship game in Glendale, Ariz. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

The nonstop whistles. The frigid shooting by both teams. The lead changing hands. More whistles.

Johnathan Williams banking in a 3-pointer. Nigel Williams-Goss trying to walk off a sprained ankle with 90 seconds left. Justin Jackson’s breakaway dunk sealing North Carolina’s victory. Gonzaga coach Mark Few consoling Williams-Goss in the closing seconds.

Those are some of the indelible images from the Zags’ 71-65 loss in the 2017 national championship at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

The 2020 college basketball season was scheduled to wrap with the title game Monday in Atlanta, but the NCAA Tournament never made it to the starting line. It was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic three days before Selection Sunday.

The Spokesman-Review took a second look at Gonzaga’s first Final Four run, beginning in Saturday’s newspaper as we revisited the Zags’ 77-73 victory over South Carolina in the semifinals.

Here are four keys/moments from the Gonzaga-North Carolina game:

Perkins’ fast start

Sophomore guard Josh Perkins was the best player on the court in the first half.

Perkins, who was scoreless against South Carolina, heated up against North Carolina with three 3-pointers, 13 points and a pair of assists. He was involved in 18 of the team’s 35 points with his scoring and passing as Gonzaga took a 35-32 halftime lead.

Perkins and the entire offense stalled in the second half. Perkins, who hit 39.9% of his 3-point attempts in 2017, missed all three of his shot attempts and didn’t score.

The Zags managed just eight field goals and 30 points on 27.6% shooting.

No flow on ‘O’

North Carolina’s offense entered averaging 85 points and Gonzaga wasn’t far behind at 83. Neither team found its rhythm, thanks to two excellent defenses and nonstop whistles by the officiating crew.

Twenty-seven of the teams’ 44 fouls came in the closing half. Both teams were in the bonus by the 13-minute mark. Gonzaga was in the double bonus for the final 10-plus minutes.

Both frontcourts battled game-long foul issues. Zach Collins, a standout in Gonzaga’s win over South Carolina, was effective again with nine points, seven rebounds and three blocks, but he played just 14 minutes before fouling out with 5:03 remaining.

“Sometimes you just feel like you don’t know how to play basketball when that happens,” Collins said.

After watching a replay of a Collins foul in the first half, ESPN’s Sean McDonough asked: “Where’s that foul?” Early in the second half, Collins picked up his third foul, prompting McDonough’s post-replay comment: “If they’re going to call that, we’re going to have 100 whistles in the second half.”

Neither team took full advantage at the free-throw line. Gonzaga made 17 of 26, while North Carolina was 15 of 26.

Gonzaga also was stung by turnovers (14 to UNC’s four) and offensive rebounds (15 by the Tar Heels, for a 20-14 edge in second-chance points). North Carolina had a 15-7 advantage in points off turnovers.

Up-and-down night for Williams-Goss

Williams-Goss put up his customary numbers – 15 points, nine rebounds, six assists – but like his teammates, he struggled to finish against UNC’s size, length and athleticism. The 6-foot-7 Jackson and 6-5 Theo Pinson hounded Williams-Goss into 5-of-17 shooting.

Williams-Goss wasn’t alone, as Karnowski had numerous good looks from close range but hit just 1 of 8 attempts.

North Carolina thumped GU 40-18 in paint points, the first time the Zags were outscored in that category all season. It was also Gonzaga’s season low for paint points.

“They disrupted us, climbed up into us, and kind of drove our offense outside the normal area as far as our wing touches and our entries,” Few said. “Their bigs … they’re a mirror of us.

“It was them. It was their length, it was their physicality, their defensive plan. They won this game with their defense.”

Williams-Goss scored Gonzaga’s final eight points before rolling his right ankle with about 90 seconds remaining, the same ankle he sprained in the second half versus South Carolina.

GU ran plays for Williams-Goss on nearly every possession late, including two isolations from the left wing that resulted in baskets and a 65-63 lead with 1:50 left. The same play was called on the ensuing possession, but he twisted his ankle trying to establish position.

Williams-Goss missed his final two shots, the last blocked and converted into Jackson’s dunk that hiked UNC’s lead to 70-65. The Tar Heels scored the game’s final eight points.

“He obviously strapped us on his back, especially down the stretch,” Few said. “I certainly wasn’t going to go to anybody else to take that last shot.”

Final thoughts

The Zags (37-2) were understandably emotional after absorbing just their second loss, but several players put the magical season in perspective.

“We did a lot of things that people didn’t expect us to do,” Williams-Goss said. “And we put in the work. We were right there, good enough to win a national championship.”

Karnowski, the NCAA’s all-time leader with 137 wins, was asked what he would remember about his final game.

“We threw the ball into the post and I didn’t deliver, so I’ll probably remember that,” he said.

“But at the same time, just playing with these guys for the last time, it’s been an awesome year, and this group of guys brought me so much joy this year, basketball-wise and life-wise.”