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Why This Year’s Gonzaga Team Could Be Its Best Ever

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Now off to an 11-0 start, Gonzaga could be seeing its best team in program history.

Nigel Williams-Goss could only watch last March as the Gonzaga Bulldogs fell in the Sweet 16. He had transferred from Washington and had to sit out a year due to transfer rules. Nine months later, Williams-Goss is leading the No. 7 ranked Gonzaga team to match a best ever 11-0 start.

For two seasons, Williams-Goss had been Washington’s main facilitator, leading the team in assists while frequently providing double-digit scoring. Those same court management skills have migrated with him to Spokane, Washington where he is averaging 4.8 assists and a 2.0 assists-to-turnover ratio. Williams-Goss has a good eye for passes  down the court, short ones out to the perimeter, and even the occasional lob.

In addition to knowing where to get the ball, Williams-Goss also knows when it is his time to shoot. He is the leading scorer for the Bulldogs with 14 points per game and a 48.6 field goal percentage. Williams-Goss uses his speed to slice through defenders, but is also good for a jumper or two. In Gonzaga’s game against Williams-Goss’ former team Washington, the redshirt junior scored a season high, 23 points with five dimes.

Last year, Josh Perkins played at the point and averaged 4.1 assists per outing. But with the addition of Williams-Goss, Perkins can get back to his natural position as a shooting guard. The switch has allowed the redshirt sophomore to shoot a blistering 54.5% from the three and is 23rd in the nation with a true shooting percentage of 70.3. This is much improved from last year when Perkins, then a redshirt freshman, shot 43% from the floor and 37.8% from 3-point range. Although Perkins’ raw numbers have gone down — he’s averaging 1.2 fewer assists and 0.6 fewer rebounds per game — his efficiency has skyrocketed, as evidenced by the fact that he’s scoring two more points per game while taking one less shot. He continues to play 30.8 minutes per contest and pockets more steals and is fouling less than a season ago.

As if being the Bulldogs’ leading scorer and facilitator wasn’t enough, Williams-Goss is second behind Przemek Karnowski in rebounding. Karnowski, who only played five games last season after a back injury, is averaging 6.5 rebounds a game, while Williams-Goss, listed as 6’3”, isn’t too far behind with 5.4. Karnowski, Gonzaga’s 7’1” center, was considered a first-round draft pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, but decided to return to Gonzaga.

Karnowski is the traditional center, managing 12.2 points and 1.2 blocks per contest. He uses his 300-pound frame to enforce his will in the paint over 21.9 minutes per game and is involved on 26% of Gonzaga’s possessions.

Freshman Zach Collins comes off the bench and helps relieve Karnowski low in the paint. The rookie forward is recording 10 points per contest, going 34-for-45 from two while adding 5.2 rebounds per game. Collins’ presence comes at the perfect time after Gonzaga lost forwards Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer to the NBA. The two stayed on the glass, recording most of the Bulldogs’ rebounds and were the team’s leading scorers. Collins may not be there yet, but plays well behind Karnowski as the team’s third-best rebounder while contributing on 25.9% of its possessions. Collins has the most success on the offensive glass, marking a 12.6% offensive rebounding percentage.

Defensively, Williams-Goss helps Gonzaga to force opponents into making 13 turnovers per game. The Bulldogs’ high pressure defense limits opponents to 27.4% from outside, fifth-best in the country, and 40.2% from 2-point range, which is the 13th best in the nation. Both Williams-Goss and Perkins are averaging 1.5 steals.

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James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

In a 69-62 win over Arizona, the Bulldogs held the Wildcats to shoot only to 1 of 8 from outside, a drastic dip in the team’s usual average of 37.2% from long distance. Arizona only attempted three shots from three-point range in the first half.

In a five-point win over Florida, the Gators saw no real success from the three for a 10.5 shooting percentage because of Gonzaga’s ability to defend the perimeter. Florida did, however, benefit on 24 Bulldogs fouls and pocketed 22 points on 91.7% shooting at the line. During the next game against Iowa State, Gonzaga limited the fouls to 11 while still being successful defending against the three-point shots. Just like with Florida and Arizona, the Bulldogs’ defense caused the Cyclones to struggle from deep range and only make eight of 24 attempts.

Williams-Goss isn’t the only transfer contributing to this team’s success. Missouri transfer Jonathan Williams teams with Karnowski as a starter in the post and contributes nine points and 4.6 rebounds, including a team-leading total of 22 offensive rebounds, per contest. Although his numbers aren’t as high as they were at Missouri (11.9 points and 7.1 rebounds), he’s more efficient with his shots, marking 57.6% from two-point distance in his first year with Gonzaga. Meanwhile, Jordan Matthews, a graduate transfer from California, puts in quality minutes for the Bulldogs.

Like Williams, his numbers are also down from his former school, but still manages 27.1 minutes per game and helps out on 16.6% of the team’s possessions. Matthews averages 9.7 points, and will be a more menacing threat when he finds his stride.

Gonzaga’s team did well last season, getting to the Sweet 16. This season, the team hopes that an influx of transfers (Williams-Goss, Matthews, and Williams) and a healthy Karnowski will allow them a deeper run in the NCAA Tournament. With a lockdown defense, effective outside shooters, and a couple of seven-footers, Gonzaga is off to match its best start in program history.

Edited by Joe Sparacio, Emily Greitzer, Vincent Choy.

When was the last time Gonzaga started the season with an 11-0 record?
Created 12/20/16
  1. 2005
  2. 1944
  3. 1964
  4. 1993

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