Nigel Williams-Goss couldn’t take part in Gonzaga’s last West Coast Conference tournament championship. So this season, he made sure he was the focus.
The former Findlay Prep standout led the No. 4-ranked Bulldogs to a 74-56 victory over No. 19 Saint Mary’s on Tuesday night at Orleans Arena, giving Gonzaga its fifth consecutive WCC tournament championship and an automatic NCAA Tournament berth.
The lead guard was serenaded with chants of “MVP” from his home crowd after scoring 22 points and recording six rebounds, six assists and six steals to win the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award.
“Nigel, God bless him, man, he gets into these games like (this one) and he makes plays,” Bulldogs coach Mark Few said.
Williams-Goss couldn’t fully celebrate the Bulldogs’ WCC tournament title last season, as he was forced to sit for a year after transferring from Washington. So he soaked in the moment Tuesday as the final seconds ticked down, sitting on the bench with his head bowed as the rest of his teammates got ready to rush the court.
“It was a really tough decision I had to make to transfer and try to figure out where I wanted to go,” Williams-Goss said. “Something told me this was the spot and this is where I needed to be. To sit here a year later, 32-1 and cutting down nets, it’s a blessing.”
The victory ensured the only blemish on Gonzaga’s resume this season is an eight-point loss to Brigham Young on Feb. 25, giving the Bulldogs a good chance to earn the second No. 1 seed of Few’s 18-year tenure.
Gonzaga played as if it was out to impress the selection committee on both ends of the court against the Gaels (28-4), shooting 50 percent and playing dominant defense in the first half.
Gonzaga held Saint Mary’s to 6-of-28 shooting before halftime and went on a late 20-5 run to go into the locker room with a 39-18 lead.
“In the first half, there wasn’t a phase of the game we were good at,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “That’s about as bad a half as we had all year.”
Saint Mary’s fought back to get within five in the second half before Gonzaga pulled away again for good. The Bulldogs started a 10-0 run with six minutes left to take a 65-48 lead, a sequence that included two Williams-Goss steals and a contested layup the guard turned into a three-point play.
“We did a good job fighting our way back, but digging a hole that early against a good team is tough,” Gaels senior guard Joe Rahon said.
Gonzaga also got strong contributions from senior center Przemek Karnowski, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds, and junior forward Johnathan Williams, who scored 11. That starting frontcourt pairing, along with an impressive lead guard, is one of the many reasons the Bulldogs have a strong chance to grab a top seed on Selection Sunday.
“This team has been exceptional all year. They’ve stepped up and met every challenge,” Few said. “We’ve been good from November 11 to March 7, and we haven’t taken any nights off. I think our results speak for themselves.”
Contact reporter Ben Gotz at email@example.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.
Nigel Williams-Goss, junior guard, Gonzaga (Most Outstanding Player)
Przemek Karnowski, senior center, Gonzaga
Johnathan Williams, junior forward, Gonzaga
Jared Brownridge, senior guard, Santa Clara
Jock Landale, junior center, Saint Mary’s
Jill Barta, sophomore forward, Gonzaga (Most Outstanding Player)
Kiara Kudron, senior forward, Gonzaga
Laura Stockton, sophomore guard, Gonzaga
Sydney Raggio, sophomore forward, Saint Mary’s
Devyn Galland, senior guard, Saint Mary’s