GLENDALE, AZ – Gonzaga coach Mark Few and Bulldogs players Nigel Williams-Goss, Jordan Mathew and Przemek Karnowski met with the media to discuss their 71-65 loss to North Carolina in the national championship game Monday night at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Here is what they had to say:
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Gonzaga head coach Mark Few and student-athletes Przemek Karnowski, Jordan Mathews and Nigel Williams-Goss. Coach, an opening statement.
COACH FEW: Wow. You know, just it was a great ballgame. It was a slugfest out there. It's two teams that desperately wanted to be crowned national champion. And I think to be so close for us is a temporarily crushing blow right now. But I'm hoping and knowing that perspective will come with time.
And these guys will realize just what an amazing accomplishment they had. And what an amazing effect they had. I mean, the basketball community was really stale on the Zags. And these guys ignited it and got everybody back to believing that this program was capable of doing this, and more than capable of winning a national championship. And they absolutely ignited the whole world to that. So couldn't be prouder of a group.
The hardest thing for me, the thing that drives me to tears is not being able to coach this complete group again. So that's the one that's getting me. I think we'll eventually realize that -- put the game into perspective.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student-athletes.
Q. Nigel, can you talk about, it looked like you tweaked your ankle there with just over a minute, and what effect that might have had in the last 60 seconds or so?
NIGEL WILLIAMS-GOSS: Sprained it pretty good. It was the same ankle that I hurt last game so it was still a little bit weak. Stepped on it wrong and rolled it. But my adrenaline was rushing. Like I said last game, nothing was going to stop me from finishing out this game. So that's what happened.
Q. Przemek, in your last game as a college athlete, what will be the one thing that you remember forever about it?
PRZEMEK KARNOWSKI: That I missed a lot of layups. I don't know. It wasn't my best game. We threw the ball into the post and I didn't deliver. So I'll probably remember that.
But at the same time just playing with these guys for the last time, it's been an awesome year, and this group of guys brought so much joy this year basketball-wise and life-wise.
Q. Przemek, there were 27 fouls called in the second half. Did you feel that was an accurate sort of representation of how physical the game was? Or do you think the referees became a little maybe too involved?
PRZEMEK KARNOWSKI: No, I'm not going to talk about refs. It was just a physical game. I thought we did a really good job on the boards. That was our main focus before the game. They're a really good rebounding team. I thought we battled really good.
We didn't let them score a lot in transition. Those are our two main goals before the game. So it's just how it is. I thought it went both ways.
Q. Both games that you guys played, the first one you guys shot 40 percent. And I noticed that guys really weren't -- either teams -- weren't shooting really that good. Was the depth perception bothering you guys out there? Because it looked like guys weren't making shots, a lot of jump shots?
JORDAN MATHEWS: No. It had nothing to do with that. Some of those were contested. They were good looks but the depth perception didn't get to us. We handled that when we got here in practice Thursday.
So it wasn't like -- you know you just missed shots. It would have been one of those things where we miss shots in a regular gym and then you don't worry about it. So, it didn't really matter.
Q. Any of the three players, obviously this loss stings now and will for a little while. But do you think there are any positives you can draw from this game, whether it's for your personal growth as a player or for the profile of this program?
NIGEL WILLIAMS-GOSS: I mean, I think it was good for the Zags to get to the national championship game. We did a lot of things that people didn't expect us to do this year. And we put in the work. And we were right there, good enough to win a national championship.
So it just kind of just left the door open for the next group of Zags to come in and do something that we were not able to do. And individually you can always learn. It stings a lot right now, but you can always get better. I think all of us sitting up here understand that. I don't think any of us think we played our absolute best game. And that hurts. But it doesn't break you. It doesn't kill you. You just gotta get better for next time.
JORDAN MATHEWS: Yeah, I mean, how many teams would take 37-2, league champs, national runner-up? We broke that glass ceiling everybody said we couldn't get over. Everybody was saying how the Zags couldn't get to the Final Four. So we did that.
It started in '99 when they went to the Elite Eight and we just kept -- the Zags keep breaking that ceiling. I have no doubt in the future, there will be future Zags that get over this hump.
Personally you can always grow from game film. You can watch what you did wrong. But there's no reason to hang our heads. This game wasn't like they were in control the whole way.
Hats off to them. They made some big plays down the stretch. But it could very well be us out there celebrating right now. So hats off to them. And this is for the future Zags coming up.
PRZEMEK KARNOWSKI: Can you say the question again?
Q. Do you feel like you learned anything from the game, do you feel like you grew as a player or person?
PRZEMEK KARNOWSKI: Just playing on such a big stage, just being here with all of these guys, I think it puts so much learning for you. But at the same time we came here. We were prepared just from the game.
And I think we'll grow -- I don't know if we'll grow in the next five minutes, but when we go back, take a couple of days off, few days off, you know, regroup, kind of just take it easy from the season, I think we'll grow. Everyone is going to take a different angle at it that we all have right now.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Questions for Coach.
Q. Mark, there was a lot of fouls in the second half. Did you feel like that was sort of accurately representing how physical the game was? Or do you think the referees got too involved? And also how difficult was it for you to navigate the second half with all the foul trouble?
COACH FEW: First of all, I mean, those were three of the best officials in the entire country -- NBA, college or anything. I thought they did a great job. I mean, these are two heavyweight teams going at it, inside, playing really, really physical basketball. You still have to officiate the game of basketball and that's what they did.
I had no issue whatsoever. I thought they did a fabulous job. And I'm on the losing end. And it's just not an easy game to ref. And we're throwing the ball inside. They're throwing the ball inside. Our guards go downhill. Their guards go downhill. So, I thought they were great.
As far as the second part, yeah, we were negotiating our way through just massive foul issues, ones that we haven't had all year. It was not looking good with about 10 to go there. I thought we navigated ourselves really, really well to get that thing down, take a lead with a minute or so to go. And just didn't -- we didn't finish.
We've been great on defense all year. And just didn't finish off that possession. We needed to come up with that rebound.
But you know what, guys? I asked this team to -- this is why they're so frickin' amazing, I asked them to outrebound Carolina. They outrebounded Carolina. We asked them to drive their 3 percentages down, especially for Jackson who came into the thing on fire, and for Berry. They drove the 3 percentages down. So they did everything we asked them to do.
Q. I hate to talk about officiating or calls. I apologize. But if you haven't seen it yet, the jump ball, held ball with Kennedy Meeks and your players near the end of the game, his hand is clearly out of bounds and he's holding the ball. Was there ever any talk to you about a review of that play?
COACH FEW: No. There wasn't. I wish -- and that's probably on me. I had no idea. I just, from my angle it didn't look like it was a situation where there was an out-of-bounds situation or I else I would have called for a review.
So nobody made me aware of it or I certainly would have within the last minute there or two minutes. So that's tough. It's tough to hear. But, you know, that's just the way it goes.
Q. You see a guy like Nigel show that emotion right there, how does that affect you? And what does it say about the program and where it is right now?
COACH FEW: I mean, it's tough. I mean, it's tough. I've just been with him for the last 10 minutes trying to console him. He's such a ferocious competitor. And he's just such a winner, that I think it's hard for him to process losing, because it doesn't happen very often to him.
And he laid it all out on the line, and he was the guy that obviously kind of strapped us on his back there, especially down the stretch. And we were having some real success going to him on some isolations. And he was delivering.
And then had a great shot that kind of rolled in and out, and then that last one was tough. I think he didn't get lift off his ankle like he usually does. But he was basically shuffling through all our options there at the end. And I certainly wasn't going to go to anybody else to take the last shot.
Q. When you look back on this week, a lot of family came through. You mentioned a lot of old coaches came through, some highs and now a low at the end. What's these five, six days summed up for you?
COACH FEW: Oh, I mean, it's been such a moving experience. I never, ever would have imagined it to be emotionally moved on numerous occasions. You know, whether it's the -- I mean, Domantas and Kelly Olynyk showed up today. They got 18 hours or something.
My college roommate from Eugene, Kory Tarpenning, flew over from Monte Carlo. Flew in Friday night. He's leaving tomorrow. We probably had over 100 former players here. I had all my coaching buddies that I owe everything to here.
So it was a great shared experience. I'm hoping, praying, that this perspective will come quicker. What's really tough right now is talking to Coach Boeheim earlier in the week, he told me it will crush you if you don't win it. And I guess I didn't understand it, but the cagey old veteran is right. Man, it crushes you.
Q. You kept Berry's shooting down in terms of percentage. But he still got 22 points and named outstanding player. How much trouble did he give you out there tonight?
COACH FEW: I mean, he had 22 on 19 shots. So, I mean, he's a heck of a player. The massive foul trouble led us to having to double their posts, which Carolina did an unbelievable job of swinging the ball in, because then you're 3-on- 2 if they get it out of the double.
But we had to double their post because we just could not -- we could not deal with any more foul trouble in there. So you got a couple of 3s off that. And all the credit goes to him and Carolina for moving the ball out of the double. That's the stuff we do to find a 3.
And so we just kind of pick your poison, and we just could not handle getting any more fouls inside. So we had to go double. And he stepped up and made some 3s off of that.
Q. A shooting percentage just not used to seeing. Their length and athleticism have a lot to do with that? And just shots you usually make sometimes inside?
COACH FEW: No. First of all, they were excellent tonight, defensively. They disrupted us. They climbed up into us, kind of drove our offense outside the normal area, as far as our wing touches and our entries. And we didn't do a good job of probably executing that.
But they deserve tons of credit. Their bigs -- they're a mirror of us. I think we're as good as you get shooting 2s, and our 2 percentage was way, way, way down today. And I mean you can correct me on this, I think it's the first time all year we've been outshot. Might even have been in a while where somebody's had a higher shooting percentage than us, and it's not by much. Actually the breakaway at the end is probably the only difference.
But it was them. It was their length, it was their physicality, their defensive plan. They did a great job. They won this game with their defense, quite frankly.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.