The surprise team of the Final Four, South Carolina, had another doozy in store upon its arrival: A first half in which it scored nearly a point per possession against the nation’s best defense, one that had held opponents to just .84 in four NCAA tournament games, even as star scoring force Sindarius Thornwell limped to a 1-and-5 start.
More surprising still: It didn’t really matter.
Gonzaga’s first Final Four in program history will be followed by its first national championship game on Monday, the product of a 77-73 win over the Gamecocks that proved, yet again, there is nothing this team can’t do.
The Zags scored their 77 points in 69 possessions, a tidy rate in and of itself but one made all the more impressive given they faced college basketball’s stingiest non-Zags defense this season. Gonzaga had more paint points in the first 30 minutes of the game than Carolina had allowed per game (22.5) in the tournament to date.
The Bulldogs were especially good in the first half, scoring 45 points in 38 possessions on 19-of-33 from the field, taking a nine-point lead into the locker room despite the Gamecocks’ unlikely sans-Thornwell success. They needed to be, as South Carolina found its own success offensively and laid in wait for its inevitable second-half run.
Nigel Williams-Goss, the All-American guard who led the Zags all season but had struggled for much of the NCAA tournament, came alive in force — 23 points, 9-of-16 shooting, six assists, five rebounds — with a relentless combination of perimeter shooting and savvy probing penetration. Meanwhile Thornwell, the NCAA tournament’s undisputed best performer to date who fell ill and missed practice early in the week, finished with 15 points on 12 shots. Zach Collins, the Zags’ first-round draft prospect who comes off the bench, had 14 points, 13 rebounds, and six massive blocked shots.
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SOURCE: ESPN, Eamonn Brennan