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March 25, 2017
San Jose, California
Gonzaga - 83, Xavier - 59
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Gonzaga head coach Mark Few and student-athletes Johnathan Williams, Jordan Mathews, Nigel Williams-Goss and Przemek Karnowski. Coach, an opening statement.
COACH FEW: Awesome, awesome performance by the guys tonight. Just an incredible feeling of elation and satisfaction that -- it's been a long, hard journey to get this program here. We've had a great ride all the way through it, and I'm just so happy for these guys up here.
Everybody in the locker room and all the former players that put the Zag jersey on, and just couldn't be happier for all those guys. And had a good feeling all day today. I thought we played really, really well. And looking at the numbers, this is the first time I've looked at the numbers, we won it with our defense again. We held those guys, they were a red-hot team, shooting 53 percent, and they shoot 35. So our defense has got us this far all year and it basically won all four games in the tournament for us. So great feeling.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. Nigel, about 55 seconds left, you kind of went off by yourself over at mid court, and it looked like you were really fighting the emotions. What was going through your head?
NIGEL WILLIAMS-GOSS: Like you just said, it was just really emotional. I had to thank God first and foremost for leading me down this path, and just kind of thought about the journey that it took to get here from transferring to sitting out and having ankle surgery last year and just battling everything that we went through this year.
We had a plan for ourselves. We believed from day one, when we all stepped foot on this campus, that we could go to Phoenix. We didn't shy away from setting that goal. And we bought in. We knew it wasn't going to be easy, but we knew if we put in the work and we bought into the system here and listened to Coach, what he had to say for us, that we could do it. And to be 50 seconds away to kind of check off that last goal that I had, when I originally got here, it was just a lot of emotion.
Q. Mark, ran into one of your former players, David Pendergraft. One of many Zags here today. How much of this also belong to the guys that laid the foundation for it?
COACH FEW: A big chunk of it. I've been there 28 years. My first year on staff we won four Division I games. And I mean this wasn't even possible. And each year we got better and better, and then we got really, really good.
Pendo was on those teams that were really good but never quite got here. That's what makes this culture so special those guys, those former players -- the Pendos, the Turiafs, Olynyk, the Morrisons, the Dickaus, the Pangoses, and Bells -- these guys know it, they're still connected to these guys even though they never played together. And our culture is just so strong. And this was a culture win and a culture statement and couldn't be prouder.
Q. Johnathan, you look pensive right now. What are your thoughts after something like this, all that you experienced in the program and where you guys are right now?
JOHNATHAN WILLIAMS: Like Nigel said, I just want to thank God for my sitting out. And it's just a crazy feeling to be able to go to the Final Four. As far as my situation, like sitting out a whole year and coming from a losing program and just now making it to the Final Four, it's incredible. I just want to thank God. And I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for my brothers, and if it wasn't for Coach Few and other coaching staff. I just want to thank them.
Q. Mark, you kind of touched on your emotion at the start of your opening statement, but with about a minute to go when you sent the other guys in and these guys came off and you hugged Nigel, what was sort of the emotion of that?
COACH FEW: Tears, absolute tears of joy. I just thanked him, said God bless you for believing in us, and God bless 3 and Przem and Jordan. They all took a leap of faith. That's what it is. It's a leap of faith. They all had great options and they believed in the culture I just spoke of. They believed in our staff. And that's a powerful responsibility to have to take on. So it kind of weighs on you.
But now that we've delivered on it, I mean, it's just a total, total feeling of elation and happiness for these guys. And so, yeah, tears of joy and just makes your heart warm to like 350-degrees Celsius or something. So good stuff. Maybe it's Fahrenheit. It's been a while since I was in class.
Q. Nigel, a couple of weeks ago you wrote a piece for the Players Tribune about what it would mean to take the team to the Final Four. Wondering if you thought about that or read it or reflected at all heading into this game? And what have the group texts been these couple of days?
NIGEL WILLIAMS-GOSS: Yeah, I thought about it as soon as the West Virginia game was over. We were finally 40 minutes away from our ultimate goal. I said from day one that getting to the Final Four, as bad as I wanted to get there personally, I wanted it first and foremost for Coach.
I said that there was no one more deserving as a coach that hasn't been to a Final Four. I wanted to do it for him and I wanted to do it for all the Gonzaga supporters across the country, especially in Spokane, and the past players that he spoke of. Because this really is a family, and I wanted to do it more for them than I wanted to do it for myself. I definitely thought a lot about it, and, again, I'm just so happy for everyone who believes in Gonzaga basketball and just happy for everyone.
Q. Mark, of all the great teams you've had, what are maybe some unique qualities about this one that allowed them to reach this milestone?
COACH FEW: Hey, I mean, that stands out to me is -- and I don't think they get enough credit for this -- is how new we were to each other in September. I mean, I think Perk had been here, Przem had been here, Silas had been here. And that's pretty much it. And Przem didn't play the year before.
So, I mean, I walked out there on the practice floor, was, like, we've never ever started with this many, you know, new people, as far as meshing them together. And I think they deserve all the credit in the world for -- they're as connected as any team we've had that's played together for four years. We've had some classes that redshirted and stayed together for four years. These guys are every bit as connected as them.
And, hey, they've proved it. Everybody was asking me is this your best team in November. It's not fair. It's not fair in December. It's not fair in January, you know. But they're 36-1, going to a Final Four. Absolutely. I mean, it is.
But that's not taking anything from those other ones. It's hard -- it's hard to get to here where we are. And there were some other teams that were every bit as good and deserving and all that and just didn't catch a break. So I feel for them, but I'm also -- I know those guys on those teams are so happy for these guys, been getting their texts and calls these last couple of weeks. Some of them -- Pangos is playing over in Lithuania, and he texted me late at night and all that. That's the best part of being a coach is stuff like that.
Q. Mark, this is the first time for Gonzaga in the Final Four, but there hasn't been a team in the West in the Final Four since 2008. You're the first WCC team to make it since University of San Francisco in 1956. I wondered if you'd expand your perspective on that a little bit in terms of basketball and the West and what this means?
COACH FEW: And Oregon.
Q. Could be Oregon, yeah. And does this say something about basketball in the West now, given Oregon and you guys? And now getting here, what it took to get here versus after this eight-year gap or whatever, nine-year gap?
COACH FEW: I think it has a tendency sometimes to be cyclical. And just maybe the classes that are coming through here and everybody's lost a lot of guys early. I mean, we lost Domantas last year, and obviously Sean loses guys every year down at Arizona. I felt all year Arizona and us played early in the season, and I had an opportunity to watch UCLA, thought they were fabulous. Didn't get a chance to watch Oregon as much. But I could just see Arizona growing and growing and growing. And I felt they were certainly somebody that we were going to have to deal with eventually again.
But I thought all four of those teams were good enough and deserving to make a Final Four. But it's luck and breaks and matchups and just if it's not your night. The cool thing about these guys, though, sometimes, we've made it our night when it wasn't. Like the other night, we were not playing good against West Virginia.
A lot of that has to do with West Virginia, but these guys better, more than any of my teams, made it their night because of their defense. And they've hung their hat on that all year and they've bought in and believed. And, like I said, it won every game going back to the South Dakota State game. So I think that's probably in a nutshell.
And as far as just the West thing, I don't know, I think it's just cyclical. And we've certainly been good enough during that time to get there and we just didn't get it done and these guys did.
Q. Mark, why was Przemek the first one up the ladder when you cut the nets and what's he meant to your program?
COACH FEW: I mean, his story is the ones that -- they mean everything. All these stories mean everything. I mean, you've got guys giving up roles and things at other places where they could have stayed and they leave the comfort, like Jordan did and Nigel did, and 3 did, to believe, because they want to win. And they want to do this.
And Przem left, I mean, his family, his mom and dad, who he's really tight with, to come all the way across the world. You want to talk about belief now. That's nuts. And he believed in us. And then just what he's been through.
And I think you guys are all aware of this, he has more wins than any player in the history of college basketball. I mean, it's unbelievable, am I right with that? Right?
PRZEMEK KARNOWSKI: Yeah.
COACH FEW: Yeah, he has more wins than any player in the history. The great Grant Hill and Laettner and all these dudes.
Przemek Karnowski is number one in college basketball. I think that says it there. He's an awesome teammate. What he went through last year, with his back injury where we didn't think he was ever going to walk again normally and just function, I mean, getting in and out of a car and doing things like that, to now moving and playing the way he is, it's a miracle, and it's as good a story as I've ever been associated with.
Q. You mentioned your defense, and obviously you held them to 35 percent, but only 27 in the second half. Did you make some adjustment to really drop the hammer on them?
COACH FEW: You know, we cleaned up some things. I think we've been really good in ball screen coverage and we were screwing up a couple of ball screen coverages early. And once we were able to get into half, draw it on the board, show it to them, they did a great job of coming out and executing.
We made a couple of tweaks in the zone as far as where we wanted to press up on, and then I thought we were better at least controlling in transition.
We gave them too many transition baskets in that first half. So those were the things we talked about. And like these guys have done all year, I mean, they just nailed it. Whether it's out of a timeout or out of halftime or a walk-through, their attention to detail has just been magnificent all year.
Q. Mark, Chris Mack talked about how your passing really made the difference finding open 3s. They've defended the 3 so well in the tournament. Talk about what you guys did to get so many good looks.
COACH FEW: Well, it starts with Przemek. You have to make a decision, do you want to double him or do you want -- because he's going to find guys. He's very comfortable. He's like the Magic Johnson of 5 men in there as far as what he likes to do.
And he can throw out. He can handle a double team. J3 has gotten a lot better and he's more comfortable in traffic now, looking for each other.
And then when you throw Tillie in there, Tillie's got an excellent feel for the game. And then you've got to make a decision with Zach Collins, do you want to double him or what do you want to do there?
So all the bigs can pass. They play well together. When the guards step up and make shots like they did tonight, I think it makes it pretty hard to guard.
Q. Guys, when you were in a man, I think Johnathan and Nigel had Bluiett quite a bit. Could you talk about what you tried to do against him and what you tried to take away from him?
NIGEL WILLIAMS-GOSS: Well, obviously he's a great player. And he was coming into the game red hot. So I think we said it before the game that we were going to try to limit his easy baskets. They run a lot of action where they get a lot of backdoor cuts or open looks from 3.
And we really wanted to take those away and said the points that he does get are going to have to be worked for on isolation, just really good offensive moves. But defense is a team thing, and it starts with our coaching staff getting us prepared and dialed into scouting reports night in, night out. And we always say if we go out and execute their game plan, we feel we'll have a great chance to win. Just a credit to us buying into the game plan and for them drawing up something that we could follow.
Q. Jordan, can you kind of reflect on -- you've been pretty open about how tough a decision it was to leave Cal and how the Final Four was sort of part of the selling point of coming to Gonzaga. Now that you've achieved it, could you reflect on your journey here in the last 12 months?
JORDAN MATHEWS: It wasn't really a selling point. It was one of those things everybody told me, you know, you could be part of something special. It wasn't one of those things where I was like, okay, if we don't go to Final Four, then it was a waste.
This season has been such a great season just being around these guys every day. It's been nothing short of amazing. You go to practice and you get to see so many different personalities and hang out with them. It was different -- it was difficult leaving Cal, but, I mean, I'm wearing the hat now; it paid off.
Q. Nigel, do you think the different routes many of you took to this team, the journeys you've made, the adversity overcome by some of the players with injuries, caused the team to bond together in a different way than the group that just comes in as freshmen together and plays four straight years?
NIGEL WILLIAMS-GOSS: Yeah, I definitely think our journeys and our past made us come together and create that bond.
But like Coach said earlier, like we came here to win. I think we all had, you know, we're on our way to really good individual careers where we were at, but we had a bigger vision for ourselves and we wanted to be something bigger than ourselves and wanted to be a part of a winning culture.
So from day one we stepped on to campus with winning in mind. And I just feel like our whole team has been pulling the rope in the same direction all season long.
And, you know, I think when you do that and kind of put the individual stuff aside, that's when you have a chance to do something special.
So it was no secret that we were coming in here to do something as a collective unit. If we wanted to do things individually, we would have just stayed where we were at.
So, yeah, I'm just glad it paid off for all of us and thankful for the returning guys for accepting us the way that they did.
Q. Przem, over the past few days you've talked about your journey coming from overseas. Now coming from overseas, going through the back injury, how does it feel to now be going to the Final Four for this team?
PRZEMEK KARNOWSKI: It feels amazing. I've been here five years. This year has been amazing. And just like everyone mentioned before, just working with this team, with these coaches, everyone is dialed in every day.
I think our coaches do a great job preparing us. And I think all the guys stick to the game plan really good. And we go out there and compete as well as we can.
And just for me individually, I'm just really happy. I've never really been to the third week of the Madness, so I'm excited to go to Phoenix. And we still have some work to do.
Q. Mark, following up on what he just said about next week. All the attention has been on getting to the Final Four. Now you're going. What do you expect -- how do you expect your team to respond when you get to the semifinals?
COACH FEW: I think they're going to respond like they've responded all year. They don't know anything different. I mean, they've just been unbelievably consistent.
We'll have a great time tonight. And I'll get up and go to church tomorrow and rest up, heal up, and then I think practices will be as good as they've ever been. And they've been pretty phenomenal all year. And we'll go down there to try to win the thing.
I'm so impressed with how Villanova did last year. And we're going to take the same approach. But these guys don't know anything different. That's how they've been all year. Basically, we've had about five or seven minutes of not very good basketball where we got away from what we've done against BYU, or we'd be looking at 37-0 right now. So I don't know any different, so I don't expect any different. I think we'll be excited, and hopefully we keep shooting it like we did tonight.
Q. Question for any of you and Coach, when Mark was asked about the first time for WCC teams since the '50s to make the Final Four, does this serve as validation for the program and for a new standard going forward?
JORDAN MATHEWS: Definitely not. Gonzaga's been a big-time program 20 years now. People look at Gonzaga. They know what it is. They know what that Bulldog means.
It's not validation now they've made a Final Four. Look at all the past great teams with Matt Bouldin, Adam Morrison, Matt Santangelo and Pargo, just great guys, great players on fantastic teams. The Final Four doesn't validate or discredit a season. It's not an end-all-be-all. Gonzaga has been a great program, and we're just happy to keep carrying the torch.
JOHNATHAN WILLIAMS: Amen brother.
Q. Przem, what time does the Final Four come on in Poland? Will they be up watching? Are there watching parties, do people know what it is?
PRZEMEK KARNOWSKI: Today's game was at 11:10 p.m. I know a lot of people are watching just from the streams online. And I really appreciate all the support I get from people from Poland, and I'm just so happy that more people follow Gonzaga and the NCAA in Poland.
COACH FEW: Polish dogs will be served and pretty strong beer. They'll have a good time at 11:00 p.m. watching Gonzaga.
Q. So they know what the Final Four is over there?
PRZEMEK KARNOWSKI: Yeah, yeah, they know what the NCAA Tournament is. They know what the Final Four is. I know back in the day someone, some Polish guy won the championship with Providence. I don't know what year. But I think that was the last year someone went to a Final Four from Poland. So I'm just really excited about this opportunity.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports