Despite Florida loss, Gonzaga proves it’s one of nation’s elite

Josh Perkins Gonzaga

Ohio State’s C.J. Jackson (3) guards Gonzaga’s Josh Perkins (13) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game during the Phil Knight Invitational tournament in Portland, Ore., Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Timothy J. Gonzalez)

Florida and Gonzaga played the game of the year so far in college basketball on Friday night–a back-and-forth double-overtime classic that made the PK Invitational feel like the NCAA Tournament. (Not that it didn’t feel that way already).

Florida won the game, 111-105, but both teams have the look of squads who could make deep runs once again come March Madness.

Gonzaga is loaded with playmakers–like 6-9 senior forward Johnathan Williams (18.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg), who’s tough, athletic, and unguardable in the post. Williams went for 39 on 16-of-22 shooting, ripped down 12 boards and blocked two shots.

Johnathan Williams Gonzaga

Johnathan Williams has emerged as the ‘Zags’ go-to-guy in the post this season. (AP Photo)

The Missouri transfer has shown marked improvement this season, and he’s been huge in the PK Invitational, going for 21 on 8-of-10 shooting in an 86-59 dismantling of Ohio State. When Gonzaga needed a bucket last night, they either went to Williams or junior guard Josh Perkins, who’s also made that next step from contributor to flat-out star.

Perkins went for 17, 7 assists and 7 boards against the Gators, and knocked down big shot after big shot before he fouled out in overtime. It was Perkins’ disqualification that finally tipped the scales towards Florida in double OT. The 6-3 junior has doubled his scoring output from last season (15.4 ppg), and is averaging 4.4 assists and 3.6 boards per.

‘Zags fans came into this season lamenting the loss of Nigel Williams-Goss, who did enough in one season in Spokane to earn his mark as one of the program’s greatest all-time players. Williams-Goss transfered from in-state rival Washington for his junior year, and nearly led the ‘Zags to the promised land. He was the man on an absolutely loaded squad (16.8 ppg, 6 rpg, 4.7 apg, 1.7 spg), and would have been the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player had the ‘Zags been able to hold on to a late lead against North Carolina in the title game. It goes without saying that Bulldogs fans will never forget that one.

His loss might have been the reason coaches in the WCC bewilderingly picked Saint Mary’s as the preseason favorite, but no one was counting on Perkins stepping up and playing the way he has, in the Williams-Goss role.

Perkins is gritty, tough, and talented–he’s a knock-down three-point shooter and has a knack for finishing plays and making the right decision.

The ‘Zags also have senior backcourt leadership in Silas Melson, who knocked down some huge shots, including the game-tying bucket to send the game to double overtime.

Gonzaga’s also got a promising freshman in 6-6 Corey Kispert, who’s averaging 12 points and 4 boards per, and can shoot the 3. He’s going to be heard from soon. And oh yeah–6-8 Japanese sophomore forward Rui Hachimura, who’s only averaging 7.2 ppg but is projected as a first-round pick.

Seriously, how was this team picked below Saint Mary’s? (No disrespect to the Gaels).

Mark Few has things rolling like never before in Spokane, and this program has made yet another level-jump in the past few years.

Gonzaga is for real, and after breaking through with its first Final Four appearance last year, there’s reason to believe the Bulldogs have what it takes to get back there.

More college hoops: Is UConn back? 



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