GLENDALE, AZ- The North Carolina Tar Heels are National Champions once again! For the first time since 2009, the team in Carolina Blue was cutting down the net in celebration of yet another title at University of Phoenix Stadium. This is the sixth National Championship for North Carolina, and the 3rd under Head Coach Roy Williams. Even after winning his third ring, Williams stated that it doesn’t compare to the greatness of another North Carolina Head Coach, Dean Smith. Williams began his college coaching career as an assistant under Dean Smith back in 1978.
As for the game itself, it was everything that the media hyped it up to be. You had a program in Gonzaga that had made it to its very first National Championship game on one side. And then you had the seasoned history of the North Carolina Tar Heels on the other side. North Carolina, if you can recall, lost last years National Championship game after a last-second dagger from Villanova’s Kris Jenkins.
Personally, I wanted to have Gonzaga take this game against North Carolina, but I still picked North Carolina to win based on their experience and last year’s upset loss in the final moment of the game. Joel Berry II, North Carolina’s Junior Guard, stated after the game that he kept remembering how it felt last year to come so close and lose. He said that was a feeling he was going to try not to have again.
But Gonzaga gave the Tar Heels everything that they could handle in the first half. They even stretched their lead to as much as seven points (twice) in the first half before taking a three point lead into the locker rooms at halftime.
Gonzaga Head Coach Mark Few stated after the game that one of the goals was to limit North Carolina’s three-point shooting and force them to drive to the hoop where they would use their big interior defense as an advantage with Collins and Karnowski down low. In the entire game, they would actually hold North Carolina to 4-27 shooting behind the arc. All four made three-point shots were made by Joel Berry II (4-13).
In the second half, it was the Tar Heels defense that stood out, coming out of the half with noticeably more energy than they had to start the game. Head Coach Roy Williams said that all he did was remind his team about the feeling that they had last year, after losing the National Championship. And apparently that was enough to stay within striking distance for the remainder of the game.
Both teams would in-fact swap leads a total of nine times in the second half with the final lead change coming off of a three-point play where North Carolina’s Justin Jackson was fouled on a made layup by Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss. He would make the free-throw to give North Carolina the one-point lead with 1:40 remaining in the game.
Now, I’ve never been one to say that a referee was the cause of a team loss, but now came the point of a crucial missed-call by the referee with only :50 remaining on the clock. Kennedy Meeks dove to the floor to secure a loose ball, and it was obvious that when he was touching the ball with one hand, the other hand was clearly out-of-bounds. This should have resulted in Gonzaga’s basketball but the referee did not see it, and called for a jump ball, which North Carolina would gain possession on. Isaiah Hicks would use that possession to hit a key jumper to give North Carolina a three-point advantage with :27 remaining on the clock.
After a Gonzaga timeout, and a blocked shot by Kennedy Meeks, Joel Berry II would get the ball and find Justin Jackson ahead of the pack for the breakaway jam! This gave North Carolina the five-point lead with :12 on the clock. On Gonzaga’s next possession, Karnowski had the ball stolen by Meeks, who passed it to Berry II, which resulted in another Gonzaga foul with just :07 left in the game. He would hit one of two to give North Carolina the victory with the final score of 71-65.
So now that the title is back in North Carolina, as a member of the media, I can’t help but to bring up a couple different discussion topics. First, how much did that blown call cost Gonzaga? And second, did Gonzaga really deserve to be in the National Championship game, or were they just the benefactor of an easier regular season schedule, capped off by not playing anyone higher than a #4 seed on route to the title game? For more on that discussion, make sure you check out my latest edition of The S3 Sports Show coming this week!
By Jeff Demers
Heroes Media Group Sports
Host of “The S3”: https://www.facebook.com/TheS3Sports/