GLENDALE, Ariz. — Three takeaways from Gonzaga’s 77-73 win over South Carolina in Saturday’s Final Four semifinals at University of Phoenix Stadium:
1. LON KRUGER KNOWS POINT GUARDS
When Nigel Williams-Goss was starting out at Findlay Prep, Lon Kruger, then UNLV’s coach, offered him a scholarship. Kruger saw exactly who he wanted at point guard: A tough kid who never backed down, had a high basketball IQ and was a leader.
Kruger of course, moved on to Oklahoma. He tried to lure Williams-Goss there. But the kid, a Northwest native, decided to go home and play at Washington.
Now he has led Gonzaga to Monday’s national championship game after scoring 23 points, doling out six assists and not letting South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell get the better of the matchup.
And as big as Bishop Gorman High alumnus Zach Collins played, Gonzaga is not playing Monday without Williams-Goss’ heroics. Kruger was in the building Saturday and probably was smiling about his former recruit.
2. THE GAMECOCKS ARE INDEED TOUGH
Gonzaga was poised to deliver the knockout punch early in the second half after building a 14-point lead. But South Carolina went on a 16-0 run to take the lead. The Gamecocks couldn’t sustain it the rest of the way, but they still had a shot in the final seconds trailing 75-72. But Gonzaga wisely fouled and didn’t risk getting into an overtime situation.
Give Gonzaga credit for battling back and not letting South Carolina have a big night shooting the ball. The Gamecocks shot 38 percent from the field and were 7 of 20 on 3-pointers. The Zags are No. 1 in the nation defensively for a reason — they don’t allow teams to get comfortable running their offense.
“It’s who we are,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. ‘That’s why I’ve been so positive and so proud of these kids the whole year. Whether it was win or lose, we’re so resilient. They don’t give in to difficult moments, and that’s the reason we were on this platform.”
3. MARK FEW’S SMART FOUL
It’s debated every night by fans. You’re up three and the other team has possession. So do you foul? On Saturday, Gonzaga coach Mark Few said, “Hell, yes.”
Thornwell was hacked with 3.5 seconds to go and Gonzaga ahead 75-72. Thornwell made the first free throw and missed the second deliberately, but the ball landed in the Bulldogs’ hands.
“We always want to foul under six (seconds),” Few said. “I thought the guys did a great job. Josh Perkins did a great job of being really patient and not fouling on the shot.
“The second part is you’ve got to get the rebound, and that’s been difficult for us at times this year. But they executed late.”
Contact Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow @stevecarprj on Twitter.