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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.

Trae Jefferson to transfer out of Texas Southern

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Texas Southern guard and NCAA tournament darling Trae Jefferson announced on Saturday that he’s leaving the school.

The 5-foot-7 Jefferson was sensational at times during his sophomore season with the Tigers as he put up 23.1 points, 4.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game, helping lead Texas Southern to a victory in the 2018 NCAA Tournament’s First Four in Dayton over North Carolina Central. One of the most entertaining talents in college basketball, Jefferson is leaving Texas Southern in-part because former head coach Mike Davis took the job at Detroit this offseason.

While Detroit is going to be the favorite to land Jefferson, because of his connection to Davis, it’ll be interesting to see what his transfer market looks like. Jefferson also made it clear on his Twitter page that he would like to be closer to his hometown of Milwaukee so that he can be closer to his ailing grandfather.

Given NCAA transfer rules, Jefferson would likely have to sit out next season before getting two more years of eligibility. But he could be applying for a waiver if he’s trying to be closer to home to deal with his family situation.

Nevada’s Josh Hall transfers to Missouri State

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Nevada lost a talented player from last season’s team as rising junior Josh Hall opted to transfer to Missouri State on Friday night.

The 6-foot-7 Hall is a former top-150 recruit who played a key part in the Wolf Pack’s postseason run as he elevated his play to average 13 points and 4.7 rebounds per game during the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Hall also made the game-winning bucket to lift Nevada past No. 2 seed Cincinnati in the second round.

Although Hall picked up his play late in the year, he was coming off the bench most of his sophomore campaign as he averaged 6.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last season.

Since Nevada took in some talented transfers, while players like Jordan Caroline and the Martin twins opted not to turn pro, it left head coach Eric Musselman with too many scholarship players for the 2018-19 season. It looks like some of those issues are now going away as Hall is leaving for Missouri State and graduate transfer guard Ehab Amin opted to decommit from the school.

Nevada is expected to be a preseason top-10 team next season with all of the talent they have returning to the roster, along with the addition of some new pieces like McDonald’s All-American big man Jordan Brown.

Hall will likely have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules as he still has two years of eligibility remaining.

Chris Webber accepts Jim Harbaugh’s invitation to be honorary Michigan football captain

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The frosty relationship between Chris Webber and the University of Michigan could be thawing — thanks to an invitation from football head coach Jim Harbaugh.

On Friday, Harbaugh called in to WTKA’s “The M Zone” as show host Jamie Morris had Webber on the show. Harbaugh offered Webber the opportunity to be an honorary captain for the Michigan football team next season, to which Webber replied that he would love the opportunity.

Webber, a former member of the “Fab Five” who helped the Wolverines to two consecutive NCAA tournament title-game appearances in 1992 and 1993, has not associated directly with the school, or with other members of the Fab Five, for many years.

The NCAA mandated that Webber and Michigan not associate with one another for 10 years after the Ed Martin booster scandal. Webber has always been reluctant to participate in anything Michigan or Fab Five related. When the famous Fab Five documentary was made a few years ago, Webber was the only member of the quintet not to participate in the making of the film. Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson all have a solid relationship with the University of Michigan at this point.

Webber later criticized the film during an appearance on the Dan Patrick Show, as King and Rose fired back with responses to reignite the feud. In the past, Rose has also been vocal in his belief that Webber should apologize for what happened at Michigan, as the group is hoping to move forward.

Although Webber still isn’t mending fences with the other Fab Five members, or the basketball program, returning to Michigan in some kind of official capacity is a big deal considering his past with the school.

Harbaugh and Webber haven’t decided on a game for next season yet as that will be something to watch for over the next several months.

Akoy Agau returning to Louisville as graduate transfer

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Louisville received a boost to its frontcourt rotation on Friday as former big man Akoy Agau will return to the Cardinals as a graduate transfer.

The 6-foot-8 Agau originally committed and enrolled at Louisville for a season and a half to begin his college hoops career before transferring to Georgetown. After leaving the Hoyas to play at SMU last season, Agau received a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA after battling injury for much of his career.

Agau gives Louisville an experienced forward who should earn some solid minutes next season. With the Mustangs during the 2017-18 season, Agau averaged 5.0 points and 3.6 rebounds per game in 16.1 minutes per contest.

While this isn’t the biggest splash for the Cardinals, they have plenty of scholarships to use for next season as new head coach Chris Mack tries to find a stable rotation. Getting a graduate transfer like Agau, who should be familiar with the school and the conference at the very least, is a nice step for a one-year placeholder.

NCAA President Mark Emmert got a $500,000 raise in 2016

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NCAA president Mark Emmert, the man in charge of a non-profit association that doesn’t have enough money to pay its laborers, received a $500,000 raise for the 2016 calendar year, bringing his total income to more than $2.4 million, according to an NCAA tax return that was obtained by USA Today.

That number actually pales in comparison to the salaries that are received by the commissioners of the Power 5 conferences.

But there’s not enough money to pay the players.

Nope.

Everyone is broke.

Carry on with your day, and pray for the well-being of NCAA administrators like Mark Emmert, whose salary is in no way whatsoever inflated by amateurism, which allows the schools and the NCAA to bank all of the advertising revenue that college basketball and football brings in and bars the players themselves from accessing that money.