By Peter Tormey
GLENDALE, Ariz. – As the National Championship game approaches, junior Gonzaga guard Nigel Williams-Goss, an All-American on the court and in the classroom, said the team’s unity and genuine care for each other have been the Zags’ competitive advantage this season.
“I feel like when you play alongside four guys that you genuinely love and you have a love for your coaching staff, you are going to do everything you can to put joy on their faces and in their hearts and that comes from winning,” Williams-Goss told the media Sunday at the University of Phoenix Arena where the 37-1 Bulldogs will take on the 32-7 Tar Heels at 6:19 p.m. Monday.
That team unity, Williams-Goss said, allows for an unselfishness that he believes might be the most significant factor in the team’s success.
“I just think our togetherness makes us compete at a high level and makes us unselfish and not caring who is going that day who is getting the shots, who is getting the minutes,” he said. “We just want to win and I think that family atmosphere creates that competitive nature.”
Gonzaga Coach Mark Few said the team’s success has been an affirmation of Gonzaga’s culture. Athletic Director Mike Roth said the Gonzaga culture extends throughout the university. This marks Gonzaga’s first entry in the Final Four.
“The culture of Gonzaga University is of course beyond just the men’s basketball team or beyond just athletics. It is the culture of the university and it’s something I’ve been blessed to have been a part of now for 30 plus years,” Roth said.
In his experience at Gonzaga, Roth said the Gonzaga culture is like that of a close family.
“It’s the family atmosphere of our institution, what we mean to each other, how we embrace each other as family, but also then how we embrace each other’s literal families,” he said. “It’s what makes Gonzaga special.”
Guard Josh Perkins also spoke of the Zags as family when after they beat South Carolina on Saturday night.
“It’s the same thing we’ve been saying all year. This is a close-knit group of guys who play for the same reason – all playing for each other,” Perkins said. “At the end of the day I think that separates us from a lot of teams and it showed out there today when it got rough.”
Perkins also mentioned family on Sunday when asked for an anecdote to characterize Coach Mark Few.
“I’d just say family sums it up for him. He really, really appreciates family, his family, his kids, and his wife,” Perkins said. “And I think we’re his second family and he shows it.”
For guard Jordan Mathews, Gonzaga is a family that works hard to achieve excellence together.
“It’s just a building and growth mindset. I mean every year we’re just knocking down a new door and rising to a new level and that’s what Gonzaga is all about, just sticking with the process and knowing that you’re going to get farther and farther,” said Mathews, who credited all the prior Gonzaga teams that have made it to the NCAA Tournament and built the foundation for this team’s success.
“This isn’t just us, this is 20 years of Zags in the making,” he said. “We’re family. Just seeing how many Zags were at our film session two days ago right before we played South Carolina – there were 40 of them in there. There will be guys in there that you’ve never met before and they will treat you like family.”