College Sports

Near-flawless first half carries No. 4 Zags to fifth consecutive title, 74-56

Saint Mary's Emmett Naar, right, passes around Gonzaga's Przemek Karnowski in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game during the championship of the West Coast Conference tournament, Tuesday, March 7, 2017, in Las Vegas.
Saint Mary's Emmett Naar, right, passes around Gonzaga's Przemek Karnowski in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game during the championship of the West Coast Conference tournament, Tuesday, March 7, 2017, in Las Vegas. The Associated Press

Nigel Williams-Goss, the definition of cool and calm, finally shot the arrow Tuesday night.

The Gonzaga University point guard said what many around the program have privately felt for months: The Zags can win it all in the NCAA tournament.

And who will argue? Behind a near-perfect first half, No. 4 Gonzaga wrapped up its fifth consecutive West Coast Conference tournament championship with a 74-56 victory Tuesday night over 19th-ranked Saint Mary’s at the Orleans Arena.

Williams-Goss, who sat out last season after transferring from the University of Washington, led the way with 22 points, six assists and six steals in nabbing tournament MVP honors.

Przemek Karnowski added 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Johnathan Williams chipped in 10 points in the Zags’ dominating effort.

Now at 32-1, the WCC kings will wait a few days to see if they grab one of the four NCAA No. 1 seeds, which will be announced Sunday. They also will likely stay in the West, either in Salt Lake City or Sacramento.

“We’d be happy anywhere,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “I think with this group, they’re fine with wherever they seed us, and wherever they send us.”

One thing is for certain, this Gonzaga group expects to make plenty of noise in the coming weeks in March.

“It is no secret, if we play our best basketball — if we dial into the process that the coaches give us — and we are playing kind of like we did in the first half (Tuesday) on both ends of the floor, there is no doubt in any of our minds that we can win the whole entire tournament,” Williams-Goss said.

What the Zags did in the first half against a dangerous Gaels squad, which shot 70.8 percent in the second half of an 81-50 WCC semifinal victory Monday over BYU, was nearly perfect.

Saint Mary’s (28-4) just could not comfortable looks at the basket. The Gaels went through scoreless stretches of 4:42 and 6:20 in the first half, and committed 10 turnovers. They made just six field goals.

“They were trying to pressure our guards a little bit. They were hugging our shooters a little bit,” Gaels guard Calvin Hermanson said “We did not have a great pace in the first half.”

And the Zags did, closing on a 20-5 run over the final 8:18.

In the middle of that spurt was Williams-Goss and Karnowski, who combined to score 19 of the team’s 20 points.

“We were crazy efficient in that first half, as far as what we were doing with the ball,” Few said.

Gonzaga led 39-18 at halftime. The Gaels’ 18 points were the third-fewest the Bulldogs had given up in the first half all season.

“That is how Gonzaga defends,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “We were so poor, I can’t even tell you, in the first half there wasn’t a phase of the game we were good at.

“We were careless. “

As poorly as the Gaels shot it in the first half, they made up for it quickly to start the second half.

St. Mary’s canned 12 of its first 16 field goal attempts, including eight consecutive made shots. Evan Fitzner’s right-corner 3-pointer cut Gonzaga’s lead to 51-46 with 10:03 remaining.

“That is kind of the name of the game,” Gaels guard Joe Rahon said. “We made a little run at it, but we dug ourselves too big of a hole.”

After Jock Landale, the Gaels’ 6-11 center, picked up his fourth foul 16 seconds later, the Zags responded by going on a 14-2 run.

And three Gonzaga possessions in a 57-second span sewed up the school’s 16th WCC title.

It started with Karnowski’s bucket. He missed a chance at a three-point play, but Zach Collins rebounded and put it back in for a four-point trip.

After he picked off a pass on the Gaels’ next series, Williams-Goss sank an 8-foot shot over Clint Hermanson that led to a three-point play.

Another Saint Mary’s turnover led to a break the other way. Silas Melson got loose after a cut and was fouled on a bucket. He also converted a three-point play, and the Zags led 65-48 with 5:22 to go.

“We are at our best,” Williams-Goss, “when we are in attack mode.”

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