For the first time, Gonzaga University could bring the NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship trophy home to Spokane. The Bulldogs beat the South Carolina Gamecocks 77-73 in Phoenix Saturday in the semifinal round of the Final Four.
The Zags pulled nine points ahead by halftime despite an injury to center Przemek Karnowski’s right eye that took him out of the game for the last five minutes of the first half. South Carolina tied it up in the second half, but in this first trip to the Final Four for both teams the Zags held them off, with freshman forward Killian Tillie nailing two free-throws two seconds before the buzzer to seal the win.
“We’ve been practicing it all year,” said coach Mark Few. “People were knocking us for not playing any close games this year, not being able to execute like that.”
Few was named coach of the year by the Associated Press Thursday. He’s led the Zags to the tournament every year since he was named head coach in 1999.
“Coach always says we can’t just talk the talk” said junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss of Happy Valley, Oregon, and formerly of the University of Washington.
“We said all year that we’re a tight group,” said Williams-Goss. “We said that we’re brothers; we said that we stick together, and it shows.”
Gonzaga is the first men’s basketball team to make it to the NCAA Final Four from Washington state since Seattle University went in 1958.
After Oregon's 77-76 loss to North Carolina Saturday night, the Zags face the Tar Heels Monday in Phoenix for the title.