Dave Boling

Dave Boling: Zags didn’t come this far to lose now

Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss shoots during a practice session for their NCAA Final Four matchup with South Carolina.
Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss shoots during a practice session for their NCAA Final Four matchup with South Carolina. The Associated Press

This Gonzaga team carries a sense of destiny.

The brackets clicked into place to their advantage this time, opening doors that led to the Final Four.

The Zags had to dig deep to claw out a win over a fiercely determined West Virginia team, but other than that, their tournament games mostly had the look of just another night in The Kennel against their West Coast Conference underlings.

But destiny is better as an after-the-fact assessment, because it doesn’t factor in who wins this weekend’s games.

These games demand defense, rebounding, taking care of the basketball and making free throws down the stretch.

And not being overwhelmed by the moment.

These games are won with versatility and depth.

The Zags have proven they have these qualities. And they’ve had them with stunning consistency.

When it came net-cutting time at the West Regional, coach Mark Few looked ahead to the Final Four and told his team: “Might as well win it all.”

Sure, they’ve come this far, why not?

Reasons for doubt are valid. This is a big stage, and no teams are infallible.

But reasons to go along with Few’s thoughts are pretty strong.

His best argument is that the Zags don’t have to do anything they haven’t done before to beat South Carolina in the semifinals Saturday and either North Carolina or Oregon on Monday in the title game.

“I think my team is going to respond like they’ve responded all year,” Few said after the win over Xavier put GU in its first Final Four. “They don’t know anything different. I mean, they’ve been just unbelievably consistent.”

Consistency doesn’t mean perfection on a given night. But the kind of depth the Zags enjoy seriously raises the level of a worst-case performance.

When you’re eight deep, you can weather a cold night by a star or two.

When top scorer Nigel Williams-Goss struggled against West Virginia, Jordan Mathews and Johnathan Williams picked up the scoring slack and came up with key baskets in the final minutes.

When you have a talented 7-foot freshman like Zach Collins coming off the bench, getting only 20 minutes of foul-plagued action out of starting center Przemek Karnowski had little effect in the easy win over Xavier.

This season, the Zags have had to beat half-court, deliberate teams, and full-court pressure teams. They beat teams that pounded it inside or bombed from the perimeter.

They play smart and efficiently on both ends of the floor. Except for the loss at home to BYU late in the regular season, they have been unfazed by any obstacle.

The Zags are 6-point betting favorites over South Carolina, but the Gamecocks are flying.

They had 10 losses this season, which means nothing anymore, as they have knocked off Duke, Baylor and Florida — No. 2, 3 and 4 seeds in the East Region.

Gonzaga won 36 games and lost just once, which also means nothing anymore.

South Carolina plays terrific defense. So did West Virginia in its loss to GU.

The Gamecocks have a fabulous guard, Sindarius Thornwell, the SEC Player of the Year who has averaged 26 points a game in the tournament.

But they also start two sophomores and a freshman.

Thornwell voiced an opinion going into this game: “I think Gonzaga is really nervous right now.”

Thornwell will be a true challenge to guard, but I think he’s wrong with his assessment of the Zags. Every player out there is going to deal with nerves. But the Zags are mostly seniors and juniors.

I don’t think they’re nervous as much as excited. This group has aimed for this from the start.

They’ve come this far. Might was well win it all.

Dave Boling: 253-597-8440, @DaveBoling

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