Gonzaga Advances to National Championship After South Carolina Rally Falls Short

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistApril 2, 2017

GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 01: Nigel Williams-Goss #5 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs shoots against Sindarius Thornwell #0 of the South Carolina Gamecocks in the first half during the 2017 NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at University of Phoenix Stadium on April 1, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Gonzaga is now one game away from history after beating South Carolina in the Final Four.

The Bulldogs overcame a late charge from the Gamecocks and survived for a 77-73 victory Saturday in Glendale, Arizona, in the program's first-ever appearance in the national semifinals.

With Gonzaga up three points in the final seconds, a Bulldogs foul prevented the Gamecocks' Sindarius Thornwell from tying it by sending him to the line for two free throws. Quality rebounding and free-throw shooting was then all the team needed to hold on for the hard-fought victory.

Nigel Williams-Goss was everywhere for the No. 1 seed, finishing with 23 points, six assists and five rebounds.

Nicole Auerbach of USA Today summed up the performance from the junior:

This is basically how Williams-Goss felt while running the show:

Photo credit: AllState

Zach Collins also played a significant role on both ends of the court with 14 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks despite dealing with foul trouble. He and Przemek Karnowski (13 points and five rebounds) in the low post helped sway the game in their favor.

Sam Vecenie of Sporting News also credited the coaching job in the win:

Thornwell, who missed practice this week with the flu, had 15 points but struggled while shooting 4-of-12 from the field. Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports described the way he looked early:

The SEC Player of the Year had averaged 25.8 points per game in the tournament coming in but was not himself in this one.

Between the disappearance of the team's best player and Gonzaga's shooting 9-of-19 from beyond the arc and 48.3 percent from the field, South Carolina couldn't get over the top.

While fans expected an ugly game, the offenses were on point in the first half as the Bulldogs led 45-36 at halftime.

Brian Hamilton of Sports Illustrated described the surprising product on the court:

Not only were there 81 points scored in the first half, but there were limited turnovers, hot shooting from the perimeter and Gonzaga had made 57.6 percent of its shots from the field.

That didn't prevent some impressive defensive plays on both sides, though. Gonzaga showed why there were no easy baskets:

South Carolina also had a few moments of tough interior defense:

Back-and-forth play dominated most of the half, but a 7-0 run helped the favorites go up nine points at intermission.

The Gamecocks struggled to keep up in the second half, with the Zags seemingly scoring on every possession.

Williams-Goss was especially impressive with his finishes, putting the team up 14 points with this three-point play, as NCAA March Madness relayed:

However, the game turned in a hurry after this moment. South Carolina increased its intensity on defense and started making shots to fuel a 16-0 run to not only get back in the game, but also take the lead.

PJ Dozier made a few big plays in this stretch and ended up leading the team with 17 points.

The Bulldogs responded with seven straight points of their own to regain control, but it set things up for a fantastic finish.

A defensive stop in the final minute set up South Carolina for a shot to tie the game while down three points. However, the Bulldogs did what was necessary to come away with the win.

Gonzaga will now take on the winner of Oregon and North Carolina in the national championship game Monday with a chance to bring home the first title in school history.   

            

Postgame Reaction

If it wasn't obvious from his postgame handstand, Gonzaga head coach Mark Few enjoyed himself after the win.

He told the media after the game he is "ecstatic to still be playing," per Mark Faller of the Arizona Republic.

The key in this win was the ability to respond despite a strong comeback from South Carolina in the second half.

"We've said all year that we're a tight group," Williams-Goss explained on the CBS broadcast (via NCAA March Madness). "We said that we're brothers; we said that we stick together, and it shows. Coach always said 'we can't just talk the talk, we gotta walk the walk,' and when things got tough, we banded together and we just pulled through."

South Carolina head coach Frank Martin was obviously disappointed with the result, but he stayed upbeat about his team's performance in the tournament.

"When you impact people by the masses the way these kids have, that means you're a winner," per NCAA March Madness.

Considering this is the first Final Four appearance in South Carolina men's basketball history, there is a lot to celebrate even with this loss.

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