Gonzaga Defeats Xavier 83-59 to Reach First-Ever Final Four

San Jose, Calif. – Mark Few kept his emotions in check as Gonzaga’s lead grew throughout the second half. As the final horn blew, pure elation came from the bench and players on the court as history was made in the West Regional Final at SAP Center.

Nigel Williams-Goss scored 23 points, and Johnathan Williams added 19 as Gonzaga booked a Final Four appearance for the first time in school history. Unlike the Sweet 16 game against a suffocating West Virginia defense, Gonzaga Basketball was on full display against Xavier. Despite the match being close after the first half, the Bulldogs hit their stride early and often in the second half.

“This really is a family, and I wanted to do it more for them than I wanted to do it for myself,” said Nigel Goss. “I definitely thought a lot about it, and, again, I’m just so happy for everyone who believes in Gonzaga basketball and just happy for everyone.”

Coach Few was wary of the ever-changing defensive schemes Coach Mack would implement during the contest. With big man Przemek Karnowski almost unmovable down low, the Xavier defense got exposed in numerous ways. Double-team coverage left Karnowski’s teammates open, shooting 50 percent from three-point range.

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“You have to make a decision; do you want to double him not because he’s going to find guys,” said Coach Few. “He’s very comfortable. He’s like the Magic Johnson of 5 men in there as far as what he likes to do.”

Gonzaga’s win was the 23rd game won by at least 20 points this season. The Final Four appearance will be the first for the West Coast Conference in 60 years. VCU was the last team to make their first-ever Final Four appearance in 2011.

“We had a plan for ourselves. We believed from day one, when we all stepped foot on this campus that we could go to Phoenix,” said Goss. “We didn’t shy away from setting that goal. And we bought in. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but we knew if we put in the work and we bought into the system here and listened to Coach, what he had to say for us, that we could do it.”

For Coach Mack and Xavier, the storybook run has ended. Like Gonzaga, the program was seeking their first Final Four appearance. A team who went through adversity in the month of February were battle-tested and came to the tournament with something to prove. Bill Murray took notice of the Musketeers, becoming a fan of the “Cinderella” team who shocked Maryland, Florida State, and Arizona. But even with the good-luck charm, the clock was about to strike midnight.

“Our guys have nothing to hang their head about,” said Coach Mack. “They’re obviously down. They’re competitors. I thank them for their continued belief throughout the year. It’s always tough when it ends.”

Trevon Bluiett entered the game against Gonzaga averaging 25 points per game in the tournament. Coach Few knew containing Xavier’s star player would be pivotal to swing momentum in Gonzaga’s favor. His game plan was executed as Bluiett finished with only 10 points, his lowest since his game against Butler where he also scored 10 points.

“I think hand in hand it’s just us not executing it well and them being the good defensive team as they are,” said Bluiett. “They’re big, and they’re long, so it makes it tough to score on the inside, and when we don’t get a lot of shots to fall from the outside that we need.”

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As the lead grew for Gonzaga, frustrations mounted on the Xavier bench. With under 11 minutes to play, Coach Mack was called for a technical as the Musketeers were down 18 points. The first-half momentum had been drained after Gonzaga found their offensive rhythm and shots were not falling for Xavier.

“We scored a little bit more in the first half, of course, but second half we just couldn’t score,” said coach Mack. “A team [Gonzaga] that’s 290th in the country relying on 3-point shots goes 12- for-24, 50 percent from the 3-point line. You’re not going to win against many teams with their size when they’re shooting it that well.

J.P. Macura had a quiet, but effective game for Xavier with 18 points. His nine points in the first half proved vital as both teams went back and forth exchanging buckets. Gonzaga opened a ten-point lead at halftime but could have seen a momentum swing for Xavier. Macura appeared to have cut the lead to seven when his shot three-quarters away from the basket went in. Unfortunately, the basket did not count as time expired before the ball left Macura’s hands.

“We were still down 10 or seven points regardless and still needed to come off the next half and execute,” said Macura. “The second half they played better than we did. That’s a big reason why we lost.”

Macura was the only relevant player trying to keep Xavier in the game as Blueitt and his teammates could not get going. But no matter the efforts, Gonzaga responded to prevent any chance of a comeback.

With Phoenix in sight, Coach Few and the Bulldogs will celebrate the historic victory before getting back to business.

“We’ll have a great time tonight,” said Coach Few. “I’ll get up and go to church tomorrow and rest up, heal up, and then I think practices will be as good as they’ve ever been. They’ve been phenomenal all year. We’ll go down there to try to win the thing.”

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