Zags and Xavier take aim at first Final Four

Both Gonzaga and Xavier are trying to make a run at the first Final Four in program history.

SAN JOSE, Calif. — One team will make history in the NCAA Tournament’s West Regional final Saturday.Either top-seed Gonzaga or 11th-seeded Xavier will make its first Final Four.A one-time Cinderella, Gonzaga (35-1) ranked among the top tier of title contenders all season, as the Bulldogs were No. 1 in the AP poll for nearly two months while winning their first 29 games. They are big, quick, deep and talented.Arguably a 2017 Cinderella, Xavier (24-13) went through a six-game losing streak after star point guard Edmond Sumner sustained a season-ending knee injury on Jan. 29, with only two of the losses to ranked teams. The Musketeers, however, regained their stride.Xavier, the lowest seed remaining in the NCAA field, advanced through the West by handling No. 6 seed Maryland, No. 3 seed Florida State and No. 2 seed Arizona.”Losing Ed was tough because he was a key part to our team,” said guard Trevon Bluiett, who scored 25 points and had an assist on the winning basket when Xavier beat Arizona 73-71 Thursday.”You know, I feel like the ‘click’ was always there. We just had to learn how to play a full 40 minutes.”Musketeers forward J.P. Macura had 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists against the Wildcats.”We’re all tough guys,” Macura said. “We stuck together, and we’re not really backing down from anybody. If you have that mentality, you can beat an awful lot of teams.”Gonzaga, whose only loss came to BYU on Feb. 25, got a go-ahead 3-pointer from Jordan Mathews in the final minute to beat West Virginia 61-58 in the West’s other Sweet 16 match.The Bulldogs’ 7-foot, 300-pound center, Przemek Karnowski, will be the biggest man on the floor Saturday and will be the toughest matchup for smaller Xavier. Both he and athletic 6-9 forward Johnathan Williams had 13 points against West Virginia.Point guard Nigel Williams-Goss leads Gonzaga with a 16.7 scoring average, one of four players in double figures. He was held to 10 points on 2-of-10 shooting and committed five turnovers against West Virginia.”Karnowski is a problem inside,” said Arizona coach Sean Miller, whose team lost to Gonzaga 69-62 on Dec. 3. “He can do it rebounding. He can do it in the post. He can do it by passing. And Gonzaga is very underrated defensively.”The Bulldogs held the Mountaineers to 26.7 percent shooting (16 of 60).Gonzaga, long removed from being a college-basketball upstart, is playing in its 19th consecutive NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs have made only two other appearances in the Elite Eight, losing to eventual champion Connecticut in 1999 and falling to eventual champion Duke in 2015.”All year we’ve been banking on our defense, our defense, our defense,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We’re 40 minutes away from a Final Four, which was something we set our sights on at the start of the year.”Xavier has made two previous Elite Eight appearances, the last coming in 2008, when Miller was the head coach and Chris Mack was one of his assistants. The Musketeers lost to a UCLA team led by Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook.