GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It was fitting, in so many ways, that Gonzaga secured its first trip to the championship game of an NCAA Tournament by doing something smart that works more often than not.

The Zags fouled up three.

With 3.5 seconds remaining.

“I stayed consistent with what we’ve done all year,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few later explained. “We love to make the ball-handler use as much time as possible while he’s not in a threatening position to take a shooting motion ... and then foul.”

And then win.

Because the Zags executed the plan perfectly and it worked exactly as designed. If you missed it, here’s what happened: Gonzaga was up 75-72 with 12 seconds remaining. South Carolina had the ball on the other end of the court here inside University of Phoenix Stadium. So the Zags pressured the Gamecocks to make them use as much clock as possible, then Josh Perkins fouled Sindarius Thornwell on the right wing and before he was in a shooting motion. There were 3.5 seconds remaining. Thornwell made the first free throw, then intentionally missed the second. Gonzaga’s Killian Tillie grabbed the rebound, was fouled with 2.2 seconds remaining, then made both free throws to increase Gonzaga’s lead to four points. So P.J. Dozier’s desperation heave on the final possession at the buzzer mattered not at all.

Final score: Gonzaga 77, South Carolina 73.

Now the Zags are playing for a trophy Monday night.

“I feel blessed to be part of something so special,” said Gonzaga point guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who finished with a game-high 23 points. “To be 37-1 and playing the last game of the season ... it’s just a blessing.”

A blessing, perhaps. But, make no mistake, Gonzaga didn’t need any prayers answered to win Saturday’s first national semifinal. The Zags were great offensively from the opening possession -- shooting 57.6 percent from the field, 55.6 percent from 3-point range and 100 percent from the free-throw line in the opening 20 minutes. They led 45-36 at the break and 65-51 with 10:55 remaining.

Yes, South Carolina made a run.

It was an out-of-nowhere 16-0 run that actually gave the Gamecocks a 67-65 lead with 7:06 left. But did Gonzaga panic or fold? Nope. The Zags simply countered with a 7-0 run to retake a 72-67 lead that they never relinquished. And they never relinquished it, in part, because they handled the final sequence perfectly.

It was a thing of beauty.

And it was also, I think, symbolic of Gonzaga’s program.

Few described his decision to foul up three as “consistent” with what he’s been doing all season, and is there a better word to describe Gonzaga in general? Consistent. The Zags are consistently in the top 25, consistently in the NCAA Tournament, consistently on the national radar for the past two decades. The last time they missed the Big Dance was 1998. I was a junior in college that year. I’m now a 40-year-old father of three. It really is amazing.

Few has never wavered from his approach -- to life or work.

He is consistent in everything he does.

He’s forever targeted a certain type of American student-athlete, plucked international prospects here and there, shopped brilliantly in the transfer market and annually positioned Gonzaga to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. He was always going to end up here because he always gives himself a legitimate chance to end up here. And when Gonzaga’s first trip to a national title game was on the line in the final seconds Saturday, even when part of his mind made him internally debate things just a little, Few opted to play it smartly and consistently with what he’s taught his staff and players for years.

He opted to foul up three.

With 3.5 seconds remaining.

It worked perfectly.

And now the Zags, thanks to a consistent approach in the final seconds that reflected a consistent approach spanning two decades, are one win from everything.