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Gonzaga holds off late charge by South Carolina, advances to final

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — 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 region of the NCAA Tournament, will face the winner between North Carolina and Oregon 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.”

Collins and Karnowksi then accounted for the next 7 points, including a 3-pointer by Collins and a thundering dunk by Karnowski.

South Carolina still wasn’t done. The seventh-seeded Gamecocks scored 5 straight to get within 74-72 with just over 2 minutes left.

“Since the beginning of the season that’s what we worked for, moments like this,” Silva said. “And we try to do our best to respond the way we learn how to respond.”

PJ Dozier led the Gamecocks with 17 points and Thornwell, the leading scorer in the NCAA Tournament at 25.8 points per game during the first four rounds, finished with 15 on 4-for-12 shooting after starting slow.

“They just crowd the paint,” Thornwell said. “They forced me to pass it out on my drives. And just protecting the rim real well.”

Karnowski went down on the court in the first half after being poked in the right eye as he took a shot underneath the basket. He left for the last 5 minutes of the half, but Collins picked him up, finishing with 8 points at halftime.

“I got blocked but he just put the finger in my eye,” Karnowski said. “I had blurry vision, a little bit shadow. I couldn’t really open it.”

“Throughout the whole second half it was getting better and better,” he said.

BIG PICTURE

South Carolina: The Gamecocks entered the tournament having last won a game in 1973. They had four wins to reach the Final Four, including victories over the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 seeds in the East region.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs now have a chance to play for a title after already getting further than ever before in the NCAA Tournament. Gonzaga had made three Elite Eights without advancing to the Final Four.

BLOCK PARTY

The teams combined for 14 blocked shots, eight by Gonzaga. Collins had six and Silas Melson had two for the Bulldogs. Silva had three for the Gamecocks, while Thornwell had two and Dozier had one.

THREES ABOUND

Gonzaga, which had a school-record 12 3-pointers in the regional final win over Xavier, went 9 for 19 from beyond the arc Saturday. Jordan Mathews was 4 for 8 while Williams-Goss and Melson had two each and Collins had one.

NUMBERS

Silva had 13 rebounds for the Gamecocks. … South Carolina shot 37.9 percent (25 of 66) for the game while the Bulldogs were 29 of 60 (48.3 percent). … Gonzaga committed 12 turnovers and the Gamecocks had just five.

UP NEXT

Gonzaga meets the winner of the North Carolina-Oregon game for the national championship on Monday night.

Colorado adds commitment from Class of 2017 point guard McKinley Wright

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Colorado landed one of the best available point guards for next season on Friday as Class of 2017 floor general McKinley Wright committed during an official visit.

A former Dayton commit who opted out of his recruitment after former head coach Archie Miller took the Indiana job, Wright was one of the best available point guards left as he played last weekend on the adidas Gauntlet in front of college coaches with D1 Minnesota.

The 6-foot-0 Wright gives the Buffaloes another ball handler and distributor as he was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball during this past season. As a senior, Wright averagedΒ 22.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game.

It’s always hard to say if spring recruits who elevate a level in recruiting after decommitting are making the correct decision, but Wright looked the part of a high-major lead guard last weekend, and Colorado wasn’t the only high-major program that was pushing hard to add Wright at this late stage.

Oral Roberts to hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills

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Oral Roberts has found its new head coach as they will hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills, as first reported by NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster.

Mills had been on staff with the Bears since 2003 as he’s been a big factor in why head coach Scott Drew has been able to turn around that program. A graduate of Texas A&M, Mills has been a full-time assistant at Baylor since the 2009 season.

“I am honored to accept this role of representing this historic institution, its students and its mission,” Mills said in a release. “Making this commitment today is a highlight of my career and I look forward with excitement to the basketball season directly ahead. Go Golden Eagles.”

Mills will replace former head coach Scott Sutton, who was relieved of his duties this offseason after 18 years at the helm.

 

Iowa commit Connor McCaffery to redshirt in basketball to pursue baseball

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Iowa commit Connor McCaffery is in a unique spot when he starts his freshman year in Iowa City next year.

Not only is the 6-foot-4 guard the son of basketball head coach Fran McCaffery, while being a four-star national basketball prospect, but Connor also has a bright future in baseball.

There was a lot of speculation as to what Connor might do for his future in athletics and he gave more clarification on what he might be looking to do on Friday.

McCaffery has decided to redshirt in basketball next season to focus on the beginnings of his baseball career at Iowa. A walk-on for both sports, the move enables Connor McCaffery to potentially play three years of basketball with his younger brother, Patrick, who is also a heralded basketball recruit for Iowa. This move also gives Connor the best chance to pursue both sports while he’ll also help out a young Iowa basketball team with its tough scholarship scenario.

Butler, Chris Holtmann agree to a contract extension

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Butler has agreed to a contract extension with head coach Chris Holtmann, the school announced on Friday, that will keep him under contract through 2025.

“Butler truly is a special place, and my family and I are thankful to be part of a great academic institution and an athletics department that is a source of pride for those who embrace Butler and The Butler Way,” said Holtmann. “Our student-athletes, our staff, and so many throughout our campus are remarkable at what they do, and I’m excited to continue to work alongside them.”

Holtmann was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 25-9 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. In three years with the program, Holtmann has a record of 70-31.

“Chris is a tremendous ambassador for Butler and the Butler Way, and his leadership has resulted in success both on and off the court for the talented young men in our program,” said Butler Vice President/Director of Athletics Barry Collier. “This commitment – both by our university and by Chris – allows the momentum within our program to continue.”

Holtmann was in the mix for a couple of jobs this spring, including N.C. State and Missouri.

Report: Nike, Adidas and Under Armour all pass on sponsoring Lonzo Ball

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Lonzo Ball will enter his rookie season in the NBA without a sponsorship deal from Nike, Adidas or Under Armour, only his family’s Big Baller Brand apparel.

That, according to a report from ESPN, is due to his father LaVar’s insistence that Lonzo not sign with one of the three major apparel companies unless they opted to sign a licensing deal for Big Baller Brand merchandise instead of outfitting Lonzo with their own gear.

“We’ve said from the beginning, we aren’t looking for an endorsement deal,” LaVar told ESPN. “We’re looking for co-branding, a true partner. But they’re not ready for that because they’re not used to that model. But hey, the taxi industry wasn’t ready for Uber, either.”

LaVar had been representing his son in the negotiations, and is now expected to reach out to other shoe brands, including Chinese apparel companies like Li-Nang.

Big Baller Brand is a startup apparel company launched by LaVar Ball. They sell t-shirts, sweatshirts and hats, with most of their products costing at least $50.

Lonzo declared for the NBA Draft after an all-american season that saw him and the UCLA Bruins flame out of the NCAA tournament in the Sweet 16. UCLA lost to Kentucky in that game, and Lonzo had a quiet night while his point guard counterpart, De’Aaron Fox, went off for 39 points.

Lonzo is a likely top three pick in the NBA Draft and, potentially, could still end up going No. 1. He has two younger brothers as well. LiAngelo will be a freshman with the Bruins next season while LaMelo just finished his sophomore season in high school. Both will attend UCLA.