SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Nigel Williams-Goss scored 23 points while orchestrating Gonzaga’s efficient offense, and the Zags finally shook their overrated tag by routing Xavier 83-59 on Saturday to reach the Final Four for the first time.
Gonzaga (36-1) has been dogged by criticism through the years despite winning consistently, in part for playing in a weak conference but also for never making the Final Four.
On the cusp of history, the Zags took it head on with a superb all-around game to give coach Mark Few the one missing piece of his resume.
Gonzaga found the range from the perimeter after struggling the first three NCAA games, making 12 of 24 from 3-point range. The defense, a soft spot in the past, shut down the underdog and 11th-seeded Musketeers (24-14) to win the West Region.
The Zags will face the winner between South Carolina and Florida in next week’s Final Four in Arizona.
J.P Macura led the Musketeers with 18 points.
The Musketeers brought their turn-the-page jar of ashes to the NCAA Tournament, where they burned through a string of upsets to reach their third Elite Eight and first since 2008. They beat Maryland, Florida State and took down No. 2 Arizona in the regional semifinals, setting up a matchup of small Jesuit schools seeking their first Final Four.
The Final Four was the only thing missing on Few’s resume, which includes 18 straight NCAA Tournaments, eight trips to the Sweet 16 and a third Elite Eight after surviving West Virginia’s constant pressure in the regional semifinals.
The Zags struggled to find an offensive rhythm against the Mountaineers — who doesn’t? — but had it flowing against Xavier.
Gonzaga came into the Elite Eight hitting 29 percent of its 3-point shots after making 37 percent during the season. The Zags found the range early against Xavier, hitting 8 of 13 from the arc in the first half, mostly against the Musketeers’ zone or on kick-outs from center Przemek Karnowski.
Xavier got off to a good start offensively by working the ball around, but hit a dry spell and made 1 of 5 from 3-point range as Gonzaga stretched to lead to 49-39 by halftime.
Halftime did little to slow the Zags, who pushed the lead to 59-42 on 3-pointers by Williams-Goss and Jordan Mathews. Gonzaga kept the machine rolling in the second half, continuing to make shots while its defense prevented the Musketeers from making any kind of run.
Xavier should have a good foundation next season from its Elite Eight, losing only senior guard Malcolm Bernard from its starting lineup.
Gonzaga played like a No. 1 seed and can erase all those overrated calls now that it is finally in the Final Four.
The first half ended with a strange sequence that started with Gonzaga accidentally knocking the ball into its own basket while fighting for a rebound. RaShid Gaston was credited with the basket after the ball bounced off the floor and the backboard into the basket.
Williams-Goss then hit a floater in the lane and Macura followed with an 80-foot shot that banked in, but was ruled too late after an officials’ review.
Gonzaga faces the winner between South Carolina and Florida in the Final Four.