The Gonzaga Bulldogs will play on the final day of the college basketball season.
With at 77-73 win over South Carolina on Saturday in the National Semifinals, Gonzaga advanced to the title game, where it will face the winner of North Carolina and Oregon.
Gonzaga’s first Final Four appearance in program history was worth the wait, as both teams started the game hot. The two sides traded baskets and the lead early in an entertaining shootout. With just over five minutes remaining in the first half and Gonzaga leading 31-28, Chris Silva blocked a layup attempt by Przemek Karnowski and inadvertently poked the 300-pound big man in the eye. Karnowski hit the floor and was soon taken to the locker room to see an eye specialist.
Oddly, without their frontcourt lynchpin, this is when Gonzaga got going. The Bulldogs extended the lead to nine by halftime at 45-36, then to double digits a few minutes into the second half when Karnowski returned.
Gonzaga led by 14 midway through the second half, but like they have all tournament, the Gamecocks made a push. In the blink of an eye, South Carolina erased the deficit with a 16-0 run. The Gamecocks were confident and aggressive against the Gonzaga big men, drawing fouls and even managing to score a few times inside.
It took a balanced attack to put South Carolina in position to make that run, as leading scorer and SEC Player of the Year Sindarius Thornwell seemed out of sorts in the first half after battling the flu all week.
That changed with South Carolina’s run, as Thornwell hit a critical three in that stretch to energize the team and Gamecock crowd.
Zach Collins finally snapped the streak with a three to put Gonzaga back ahead. From there, the Bulldogs looked inside to Karnowski who added a couple baskets to what became a 7-0 Gonzaga response.
The Bulldogs maintained a slim lead from there and led 75-72 with 12.7 seconds left as the Gamecocks set up a final play. Gonzaga let the clock wind down to 3.5 seconds before committing the foul and sending Thornwell to the line. Thornwell made the first and intentionally missed the second, but Killian Tillie pulled down the rebound for the Bulldogs.
Tillie was fouled, went to the line, and calmly sunk both free throws to make the final margin.
Nigel Williams-Goss had 23 points to lead Gonzaga on 9-16 shooting with five rebounds and six assists. P.J. Dozier had 17 points and nine rebounds for South Carolina, and despite the slow start, Thornwell finished with 15.