PHOENIX – On the eve of their historic first game in the Final Four, No. 1 seed Gonzaga met the media today and practiced in front of fans at the University of Phoenix Stadium. Tipoff against No. 7-seed South Carolina is at 3:09 p.m. Saturday when the Zags will look to Johnathan Williams to continue to be a difference-maker.
Williams, a 6-foot-9-inch junior forward named the Most Outstanding Player in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament with 19 points, eight rebounds, three blocked shots and two steals in the Zags’ 83-59 win over Xavier, spoke today about his journey to the Final Four as a transfer from Missouri.
“I feel like it has been a long journey. You probably see all the success I go through, but there have been a lot of struggles. I just try to stay happy,” he said. “I am truly blessed to be in this position and I just try to stay in the moment and not take anything for granted. There are a lot of people that would like to be in this situation. I love my teammates and I am really happy to be here right now.”
At one of the biggest events in sports, Williams said he remains focused on basketball. He feels a strong connection with all of his teammates – a group that includes players from six countries, and transfers like himself, Nigel Williams-Goss, Jordan Mathews, and Jeremy Jones.
“I feel like a brotherhood. I have created a bond with all of my teammates. We have all come from different countries and different cities, but we have been able to create a bond with each other and I feel like we have established a tight brotherhood over these last nine months or so,” Williams said.
While deciding where to transfer, Williams said he was impressed with Gonzaga’s depth of preparation and detailed plan for his future.
“When I went on my visit, they gave me a game plan of what I would be doing in my redshirt year. Of all of the schools, they were the only school that did that,” Williams said. “Here is what you are going to be doing on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, you are going to work on this and this in the offseason. And they really got me hooked and when I got there to campus they really followed through with their plan and we just talked about everyday what can I get better at?”
Best Defense Ever at Gonzaga?
Coach Mark Few mentioned Williams as a key defender when asked today if this is the best defense he’s had at Gonzaga – as analytics suggest.
“I would agree with that. And just for several reasons. The rim protection that we have this year is different than anything we’ve been able to put out there. We’ve got the bulk, the strength, the size of Karnowski, which allows us to not have to double team. So then we’re not forced into rotations. But then we can also combine that with the athleticism, the shot blocking of Zach Collins. Killian Tillie helps,” he said. “And I’m telling you, the guy that probably makes the biggest difference for us is Johnathan Williams III. He can guard one through five.”
This is the first meeting between Gonzaga (36-1) and South Carolina (26-10), which is also making its first Final Four appearance. The Bulldogs are 12-7 all-time versus teams from the Southeastern Conference. Earlier this season, the Zags beat SEC teams Florida 77-72 (Nov. 25), and Tennessee 86-76 (Dec. 18).