SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Like a top soccer team, Gonzaga built a title contender by dipping into the transfer market.
Point guard Nigel Williams-Goss arrived from Washington, forward Johnathan Williams from Missouri and guard Jordan Mathews from California.
Add in 300-pound, 7-foot-1 Polish center Przemek Karnowski and guard Josh Perkins, both granted extra seasons because of injuries, and the Zags’ starters made some of the most interesting journeys to the Pacific Northwest since Lewis and Clark.
And what better place for Gonzaga to lose that chip on its shoulder than Silicon Valley?
“We’re all here for a reason, right,” Perkins said in the corner of the locker room, sitting under the West Regional championship trophy. Saturday’s 83-59 manhandling of Xavier earned the Zags their first trip to the Final Four semifinal matchup against Florida or South Carolina next weekend.
Making its 20th NCAA tournament appearance, Gonzaga has reached the Final Four for the first time — becoming the first West Coast Conference team to advance that far since San Francisco made its third straight trip in 1957.
Williams-Goss, spurting up court on the dribble with the gusto of a sprinter, was dissatisfied with the Huskies’ just-over-.500 record in two seasons there. He shifted to the Zags, sat out 2015-16 and scored a game-high 23 points against the Musketeers.
“Our journeys and our past made us come together and create that bond,” Williams-Goss said. “We were on our way to really good individual careers where we were at, but we had a bigger vision for ourselves and we wanted to be something bigger than ourselves and wanted to be a part of a winning culture.”
Williams led Missouri in scoring in 2014-15 but the Tigers went 9-23 and he left just after the assistant coach who recruited him, Tim Fuller. Williams missed a season under NCAA transfer rules and was selected most outstanding player of the West Regional after scoring 19 points against Xavier.
“I just want to thank God for my sitting out,” he said.
Mathews didn’t even have to miss a season. Because he had earned an undergraduate degree and had eligibility remaining, he could switch teams seamlessly, just like a pro.
“Everybody told me: You could be part of something special,” he said.
Perkins’ freshman season ended after five games in 2014-15 when he broke his jaw against Georgia. Karnowski, a bearded behemoth, also was limited to five games last season because of bulging back disks that needed surgery. He returned as a fifth-season senior.
“We didn’t think he was ever going to walk again normally and just function, I mean, getting in and out of a car and doing things like that,” coach Mark Few said.
Next weekend, they’ll all be in Glendale, Arizona. At 36-1, Gonzaga has become a national power.
“Basically, we’ve had about five or seven minutes of not very good basketball,” he said, referring to a 79-71 lost last month. “We got away from what we’ve done against BYU, or we’d be looking at 37-0 right now.”
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