The Zags have heard the doubters all season long, and they never cared. Now those naysayers get to watch Gonzaga play for the national championship Monday night.
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The raucous celebration inside Gonzaga’s locker room simmered from a reenactment of the Jump Around video to hugs and high-fives as three of its stars exited.
Przemek Karnowski and Nigel Williams-Goss flanked freshman big man Zach Collins during their stroll through University of Phoenix Stadium’s long tunnel, shoulder-hugging and lovingly smacking each other in a raw expression of joy.
Without realizing, Karnowski broke ahead of his teammates and continued around the corner. Few others were around to witness what happened next.
Williams-Goss and Collins danced, if you’d like to call it that. Maybe it was a choreographed move gone wrong, or maybe that was the actual routine these two roommates put together one day. Doesn’t matter. Williams-Goss’ pirouette and Collins’ kind-of-a-robot twist wouldn’t have won any contests.
Not that they need anymore judges. The Zags have listened to their evaluations throughout the season and watched them all write new critiques – plenty of them being unflattering. And just like Williams-Goss and Collins laughed off their odd dance moves and continued on their way, Gonzaga was comfortable in its own skin long before it beat South Carolina 77-73 on Saturday night to advance to the national championship game against North Carolina.
“We’ve heard we haven’t played tight games, that we’re not tough – we’ve heard everything,” Williams-Goss said.
“The journey we’ve been on has just been unreal, and we just never stopped believing and we’ve had the utmost confidence in ourselves the entire season long.”
They had nothing to be ashamed of in the first place. Not the conference they play in, not their character, and certainly not their 37-1 record.
Toughness? How about watching the Gamecocks run off 14 straight points over a three-minute stretch in the second half before taking the lead, only to respond with seven consecutive points of their own?
Or Karnowski getting poked in the eye toward the end of the first half, getting treatment in the locker room and playing through a little blurred vision the rest of the way?
Who else wants to question Gonzaga’s toughness?
“I’ve had some really, really tough teams. I’ve had some really close teams,” coach Mark Few said after the victory. “I’ve had some teams that have been crazy efficient on the offensive end and ones that have been pretty darned good on the defensive end that probably didn’t get credit for it. These guys are all of that. All of it.”
And Few’s opinion is the only one that matters to his players. Outsiders have attempted to poke holes in that glowing endorsement throughout the season and even in the NCAA Tournament. It wasn’t enough that Gonzaga finally advanced to its first Final Four, it had to go through a No. 11 seed to do it.
Will anyone bother to mention to the Zags that South Carolina was a No. 7 seed? That they’re facing a much tougher challenge with North Carolina on Monday night?
Probably won’t matter to the Zags anyway. Before Saturday night’s game, Collins told his roommate, “I wouldn’t want to be playing against me today.” To which Williams-Goss replied, “Let’s do it then.”
Williams-Goss finished with a game-high 23 points. Collins’ 14-point, 13-rebound, six-block performance marked his first double-double of the entire season.
“Coach says it all year that we just can’t talk the talk, we gotta walk the walk,” Williams-Goss said.
Or, dance the dance.
— Jeff Bartl (@JBartlCI) April 2, 2017