Gonzaga vs. South Carolina, 5:09 p.m.
As a No. 1 seed, Gonzaga (36-1) is a clear favorite in Saturday’s matchup against No. 7 South Carolina (26-10). But two of the top teams in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency are facing off, with the Zags No. 1 (86.0) and the Gamecocks No. 2 (87.9), according to the advanced stats of Ken Pomeroy. Mark Few’s team has won seven straight games since falling 79-71 to BYU on Feb. 25, which ended its chance at an undefeated season. The last one-loss team win the national title was North Carolina State in 1974. Gonzaga and South Carolina are making their first Final Four appearances. The Gamecocks ranked eighth in the SEC in scoring (73.2) during league play, but they averaged 82 points in four NCAA tournament games.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Gonzaga: Nigel Williams-Goss is Gonzaga’s best player and leading scorer. But the game could be won in the frontcourt. Przemek Karnowski, a 7-foot-1 senior center from Poland, has played in a school-record 11 NCAA tournament games, and he’s played more games (150) than any current Division I player. Karnowski is averaging 9.3 points and 3.8 rebounds in the Big Dance, but he could be due for a breakout game. Jonathan Williams is averaging 11.5 points and 7.7 rebounds in the tournament run.
South Carolina: There’s little doubt that senior forward Sindarius Thornwell has been the most impressive player in this year’s NCAA tournament. He is averaging 25.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, shooting 50 percent from the field and 42.3 percent from three-point range (11-for-26). Thornwell missed Thursday’s practice with an illness, but he’s expected to play Saturday. Sophomore forward Chris Silva has improved on his production (10.6 to 13.0 points and 5.0 to 7.8 rebounds) since SEC play.
KEYS TO VICTORY
Zags win if: They can keep their turnovers in single digits. South Carolina ranks fifth in the nation, forcing 17.2 turnovers per game. The Zags had 16 turnovers in their loss to BYU.
Gamecocks wins if: They can shoot 50 percent or better in the second half. They outscored Florida 44-30 in the second half in the Elite Eight on 52 percent shooting. They shot a scorching 71.4 percent in the second half to upset Duke, a program record in the tourney.
PREDICTION: Gonzaga 73, South Carolina 63