A national championship is the most sought after prize for any student-athlete. You could see the craving for the title in both of the teams as they set out to accomplish their ultimate goal this season.
The heart and willpower for each team were in full effect as they played with incredible defensive intensity. The game was tight throughout but North Carolina came out on top 71-65.
The game came down to the wire as the Tar Heels held a three-point lead after a made shot by Isiah Hicks, North Carolina power forward, with 27 seconds left. The score was at 68-65 when Gonzaga called a timeout. Gonzaga guard Nigel Williams-Goss took the shot out of the timeout, but North Carolina center Kennedy Meeks, came up with the block of his life as he sent back Williams-Goss’ shot. Joel Berry II snatched the rebound from the block for UNC and found Justin Jackson in transition for the slam. Gonzaga faced a five-point deficit with 12 seconds to go which ultimately doused their hopes of winning the 2017 title.
Both teams went back-and-forth all game. Gonzaga led for the majority of the first half, but unlike the rest of their tournament games, they lost the end of the half. Gonzaga led 28-21 with four minutes remaining in the first half but went into the locker room with just a 35-32 advantage.
North Carolina came out and took back the lead early in the second half. Both teams took and lost the lead for the remainder of the second half until in the end when North Carolina put away Gonzaga.
Here are the highlights:
Neither team shot particularly well but that was mainly a result of tenacious defense from both sides. North Carolina shot 35.6 percent from the field which is actually higher than Gonzaga’s shooting percentage of 33.9. The stat sheet for both teams looks sloppy but the game wound up becoming a defensive masterpiece on both ends of the floor.
For Gonzaga, their struggles offensively came from their two leading scorers. Williams-Goss really never find his stroke all night as he shot 5-of-17 from the field to finish with 15 points. The junior guard ran the offense and was able to dish out six assists while committing only two turnovers.
Not only did Williams-Goss struggle, but so did Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski. The team worked him into the gameplan early but his ability to finish around the basket did not show up. He scored nine points on 1-of-8 shooting from the field with four turnovers. It seemed like the big man forced things early-on in the game but didn’t have much success against the dominant North Carolina frontline. The matchup between Karnowski and the depth of North Carolina’s front went the Tar Heels way.
The Tar Heels big men played well defensively but they also found their share of struggles on offense. Both Meeks and Hicks finished with a combined 20 points which are low for this tandem. Both big men usually dominate the scoring totals on put backs and close shots around the rim. Gonzaga pulled off a great effort to keep them from taking over the game like they have all season.
Gonzaga’s best guard didn’t play his best game, but on the other end, Joel Berry II had himself a game to remember. He found a way to keep North Carolina’s foot on the gas pedal, which played a significant role in their success. Berry was able to make big shots down the stretch to finish the game with 22 points and six assists. Berry shined but his team as a whole really struggled from three which almost cost them the game. As a team, the Tar Heels shot 4-of-27 from deep which is 14.8 percent. North Carolina found a way to persevere and come out of this dogfight alive and win their sixth title in school history.