Gonzaga makes first title game

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Their star guard was outstanding. Their big men dominated inside. Still, it came down to some last-second strategy for Gonzaga to move on to the NCAA Tournament championship game for the first time.

Nigel Williams-Goss scored 23 points, Gonzaga’s big men combined for 27 and the Bulldogs kept South Carolina from taking a game-tying shot in a 77-73 victory Saturday night in a matchup of first-time teams at the Final Four.

“Just an awesome, awesome basketball game, with just how hard both teams competed,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “It took everything we had to hold them off and come back.”

The Bulldogs’ 7-footers, senior Przemek Karnowski and freshman Zach Collins, took care of things on both ends of the court, combining for 18 rebounds. Collins also had a career-high six blocks.

“That’s my job is to go in and rim protect,” said Collins, who had 14 points and 13 rebounds. “I had four fouls today. But I thought, you know, getting those blocked shots would help us.”

Gonzaga (37-1), the top seed in the West Regional, will face North Carolina, the top seed in the South, for the title on Monday night.

“To be playing the last game of the year, that’s crazy cool,” Few said.

Williams-Goss missed a shot with 12.7 seconds left and South Carolina rebounded and called a timeout, trailing 75-72. South Carolina passed the ball around and Gonzaga fouled Sindarius Thornwell before he could shoot with 3.5 seconds left. Thornwell made the first free throw and missed the second on purpose in hopes of his teammates grabbing an offensive rebound. Killian Tillie rebounded for Gonzaga, was fouled and made two free throws to cement the game.

“We had been practicing it all year and we always want to foul under 6 [seconds],” Few said. “Josh Perkins did a job being really patient and not fouling on the shot. The second part is you’ve got to get the rebound, and that’s what’s been difficult for us at times. They executed great.”

Thornwell said the idea was to get in position for one last quick shot.

“The plan was to miss it left and hopefully Chris (Silva) could tap it out to somebody,” he said.

Williams-Goss, a second-team All-American, led the Bulldogs to a 14-point lead in the second half but it disappeared quickly as the Gamecocks (26-11) went on a 14-point run to grab a 67-65 lead with about 7 minutes to play.

“When things got tough we banded together and pulled through,” said Williams-Goss, who had six assists and a brief injury scare after turning an ankle underneath the basket.

“There was no way I was going to come out of the game. This is the last two games of the season,” Williams-Goss said. “Now we’re 40 minutes from a championship.”

North Carolina 77,

Oregon 76

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Kennedy Meeks capped off his career night with an offensive rebound that helped North Carolina hold off Oregon 77-76 and return to the NCAA championship game, where its title hopes got dashed at the buzzer last season.

Meeks, a senior, matched his career high with 25 points. But it was his 14th rebound that saved Saturday night’s game for North Carolina (32-7).

Clinging to a one-point lead with 5.8 seconds left, the Tar Heels missed four straight free throws, but grabbed the rebounds after both of the misses on the back half. Meeks got the last one and threw the ball outside to allow the Tar Heels to eliminate the Ducks (33-6).

North Carolina moves on to play Gonzaga in the title game Monday. Last year in the same game, the Tar Heels fell when Villanova’s Kris Jenkins hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer for the win.

By Paul Wager

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