GLENDALE, AZ- The environment at University of Phoenix Stadium was full of excitement and packed with fans from all over the country, and all over the world. The last time I saw this stadium that packed was when I went to Wrestlemania about a decade ago. Outside of that, I don’t believe I have ever seen such a large crowd, in person, for a non-football event in an enclosed arena. But today was different, this event was to decide which teams would move on to the NCAA Championship game next week.
Going back about two weeks, there “might” have been one number one seed that most people selected in their brackets to be in the Final Four. And that team would have most likely been North Carolina. Even I picked Arizona to take out Gonzaga in their bracket. But since the Wildcats failed to deliver, Gonzaga still found a way to put themselves in position to fight for the NCAA Championship this Monday.
Standing in their way was a surprising South Carolina team, led by their Sophomore Guard, PJ Dozier. Gonzaga would counter with their Junior Guard, Nigel Williams-Goss. And in a game full of runs, it was like watching a boxing match where you would have one fighter dominate a round, only to have the other fighter win the next round.
The game itself was close throughout the first half until about the 2:30 mark where the Gamecocks would score to pull within two of Gonzaga with the score at 36-38. Gonzaga would close out the first half on a 7-0 run Zach Collins and Williams-Goss, capped off with a three-pointer by Jordan Matthews, assisted by Williams-Goss.
The lead would balloon to 14 points after Williams-Goss nailed a three with 11:36 remaining in the game. Even with the deficit, the 7th seeded Gamecocks maintained their composure and began chipping away at the Bulldogs lead. Behind Dozier’s offense and phenomenal defense and rebounding down low from Chris Silva, the Gamecocks completely erased Gonzaga’s 14-point lead in just under three minutes. With seven minutes remaining, we had a whole new ballgame.
After a pair of made free-throws, South Carolina would take its first lead since early in the game. But that lead didn’t last long as Williams-Goss would again drain another one from behind the arc, giving Gonzaga a one-point lead with about 6:30 remaining. And even though they never lead by more than five points, it was too much for South Carolina to overcome, and they would lose to Gonzaga with a final score of 77-73.
After the game,
Oregon vs. North Carolina
Unlike game 1 where there was a battle between guards, this game came down to a battle of the big men and who could control the paint down low on both offense and defense. Oregon’s Jordan Bell was matched up against the big Center for North Carolina, Kennedy Meeks. At 6’10” Meeks is built to battle down low and has a nice low post game to go with it. Bell was giving up about 40 pounds to North Carolina’s big man but made up for it with his athleticism and versatility.
The game itself started off slow for both teams, only managing about a dozen points each about half way through the first half. Oregon would actually find themselves up eight points with just over about four minutes remaining in the first half. But then Meeks started to really show his dominance down low and came up with multiple offensive rebounds to keep North Carolina’s possessions alive. Most of which, he would put back himself on a dunk or a layup. By the end of the first half, North Carolina would go into the locker room with the lead with the score of 39-36.
Coming out of the half, it was more of Bell and Meeks setting the tone on the boards for both teams. But Meeks really took over on the offensive side of the court in the second half. He would score 14 of his 25 points in the second half, and add four offensive rebounds to his total of 14 rebounds in the game.
With Oregon just down just a single point with six seconds left on the clock, they knew they would need to foul and hope for a North Carolina miss so they would have a shot to win the game. And they got just what they wanted. After fouling Kennedy Meeks, the Ducks watched both free throws rim out just like they needed. However, the Ducks would lose the battle of the boards and give up the rebound to North Carolina. The Ducks quickly fouled once again to send the Tarheels to the line once more.
And you wouldn’t believe it, but Joel Berry II would miss both free throws with only four seconds remaining in the game. But again, Oregon would lose the battle on the boards as big Kennedy Meeks would tip out the rebound to his teammate, and the Tarheels would run out the clock on the Ducks season.
Kennedy Meeks would finish with 25 points, and 13 rebounds for the Tarheels, and Jordan Bell would finish with 13 points and 16 rebounds for the Ducks.
The North Carolina Tarheels will be facing the Gonzaga Bulldogs on Monday night for the NCAA Championship at University of Phoenix Stadium.
So who do you have for tonight’s game?
I’ll be there LIVE, calling the game on Twitter for @HeroesMediaGrp and @Smaahtside. Please tag us with your pictures if you are going to be there! We would love to share them on our Facebook pages!
By Jeff Demers
Heroes Media Group Sports