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Final Four: Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss battles despite late ankle sprain

Gonzaga's Nigel Williams-Goss reacts as he walks off

Gonzaga's Nigel Williams-Goss reacts as he walks off the court after the finals of the Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament against North Carolina, Monday, April 3, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. Credit: AP / Mark Humphrey

GLENDALE, Ariz. — For a while late in Monday night’s national championship game, it looked as if Nigel Williams-Goss was going to carry Gonzaga to the title all by himself. He scored eight straight points for the Bulldogs, the last basket of that stretch giving the team a 65-63 lead with 1:53 remaining.

“He was the guy that obviously kind of strapped us on his back there, especially down the stretch,” Bulldogs coach Mark Few said. “And we were having some real success going to him on some isolations. He was delivering.”

But the junior point guard twisted an already sore ankle shortly after that spurt, and Gonzaga would not score another point for the remainder of the game.

“Sprained it pretty good,” Williams-Goss said after the game. “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.”

The only thing that did stop him was North Carolina center Kennedy Meeks, who blocked his jump shot in the lane with 16 seconds left and Gonzaga trailing 68-65. The turnover led to a fast-break dunk by the Tar Heels that essentially sealed the 71-65 win.

“I think he didn’t get lift off his ankle like he usually does,” Few said. “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.”

Williams-Goss finished with a team-high 15 points with nine rebounds and six assists while playing all but one minute of the game. If he was at full strength, could he have gotten more lift on that last jumper to clear Meeks’ reach? Might he have gone harder to the basket to try to draw an and-one that might have tied the score? All of that — and more — will be running through his head and the minds of Gonzaga fans for a long time.

“It stings a lot right now, but you can always get better,” he said. “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.”

Still, Williams-Goss was in tears after the game for quite some time.

“I’ve just been with him for the last 10 minutes trying to console him,” Few said. “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.”

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