Zags head to their first NCAA Championship after Final Four win

Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski (24) celebrates with teammates on the bench during the second half against SC in the semifinals of the Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament, Saturday, April 1, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. Gonzaga never relinquished the lead after that and made some key defensive plays down the stretch to preserve the win.

The two teams fought tooth and nail for every possession in the final four minutes, but both sides went cold offensively. The Wildcats weren't almost the rebounding juggernaut that the Tar Heels are, but they rotate a deep group of big men who can defend the post. Still, it came down to some last-second strategy for Gonzaga to move on to the NCAA Tournament championship game for the first time.

Whatever the reason, Thornwell struggled to assert himself against Gonzaga on Saturday as the Gamecocks' first trip to the Final Four ended with a 77-73 loss in the national semifinals.

"To be playing the last game of the year, that's insane cool", Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. Another Collins block with 90 seconds remaining - his sixth - snuffed out the first.

Gonzaga was led by Williams-Goss' 23 points and six assists, while Collins added 14 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks. "I had four fouls today. I thought the guys did a great job", Few said.

The victory at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale means Gonzaga will face either North Carolina or OR in Monday's final. "And, you know, we just heard everything this year - we've heard the conference, we've heard we haven't played tight games, that we're not tough, we've heard everything". After hitting the first, he hit the second off the back of the iron and Gonzaga snagged it and was fouled with 2.2 still on the clock with a 75-73 advantage.

Tillie made both ends of a one-and-one with 2.2 seconds left.

"We had been practicing it all year and we always want to foul under 6 (seconds)", Few said. Up three with the shot-clock off, the Bulldogs fouled Sindarius Thornwell with 3.5 seconds left to send him to the line.

"It takes you a long time to get over that you don't have to score to be effective", Meeks said.

"The plan was to miss it left and hopefully Chris (Silva) could tap it out to somebody", he said. That advantage ballooned to 14 points early in the second half, but SC responded with a furious 16-0 run to take the lead with seven minutes left.

It wasn't the kind of game that Thornwell and Gamecocks fans had come to expect from their star player, especially in the NCAA Tournament.

It's been 44 years since the Gamecocks have won a game in the tournament and 13 since they've been in one.

This national championship trophy will not be going back to Columbia, South Carolina. "He's been playing well for us the entire season". "And we try to do our best to respond the way we learn how to respond".

Thornwell, who scored over 20 points in each of South Carolina's first four tournament games, just didn't show up late when the Gamecocks needed him most. They also boast several bulky, lockdown guards, just like North Carolina. Gonzaga shot just under 70 percent from the floor in the first ten minutes and would shot 58 percent in the first half. Despite leaving in the first half after being hit in the eye, Karnowski put up 13 points and five broads.

"I probably should have extended our defense earlier in the game". I had blurry vision, a little bit shadow.

Against Gonzaga, the Gamecocks trailed at the half for the fourth time in this tournament.

Still, South Carolina wasn't done. Now coming up immediately afterward at 5:49 pm Pacific (8:49 ET) on CBS is top seeded North Carolina vs 3 seed OR from Glendale Arizona. Either game would end up being hot fire, so it's hard to imagine that we'll be disappointed on Monday night. The big bearded one, Przemek Karnowski followed with two straight baskets, one off a nifty pass from Collins, and the Bulldogs appeared back in control. Gonzaga and North Carolina have set up a winner-take-all against each other after winning Saturday by a combined five points.

Nigel Williams-Goss scored 23 for the Bulldogs.

  • Julie Sanders