REDEMPTION. How sweet it is. A year ago Roy Williams and the Tar Heels left NRG Stadium in Houston heartbroken after losing the championship game to Villanova. Fast forward to the present and North Carolina are champions once again, besting Gonzaga 71-65 for the 6th title in the school’s storied history.
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IT took a Luke Maye game winner and some tenacious rebounding, that carved out the Tar Heels identity this season, for Roy Williams’ squad to even be in this position. However, through guts, determination and let’s be honest some luck, North Carolina progressed to the final game of the year for the 2nd consecutive year to face the 37-1 Gonzaga Bulldogs. With both teams defensively orientated and aggressive rebounders, the game was going to potentially swing on who could make more shots.
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AN icy 4-27 from downtown and 26-73 overall wasn’t exactly the shooting performance the Tar Heels would have wanted. Luckily the 8-19 from deep and 20-59 overall Gonzaga squad forgot how to basketball as well. Trailing at the half the Tar Heels needed someone to step up and emerge as the hero. Unfortunately for fans trigger happy refs didn’t really allow anyone to play alpha dog forcing each team to bench their foul troubled big men by whistling 27 second half fouls and ruining the momentum of the game. As the clock ticked down into the final two minutes with Gonzaga holding a slim two point lead, the Tar Heels made their move. A Justin Jackson three point play gave North Carolina the lead back and after Gonzaga stud Nigel Williams-Goss tweaked his ankle, Isaiah Hicks made a bucket for the Tar Heels to push the lead to three. A Kennedy Meeks block that led to a Jackson outlet dunk sealed the title with 11 seconds remaining.
WHILE the game was rued with fouls, somewhat questionable ones at that, take nothing away from North Carolina. They dominated Gonzaga in the paint (outscoring them 40-18) and lifted their perimeter defense in the 2nd half to power into the lead. Fans who paid a lot of money for their seats may leave disappointed that the referees didn’t put the whistle away and let the kids play, but I doubt that would have changed the result. A Most Outstanding Player performance from a hampered Joel Berry II and some clutch stops down the stretch was the difference in the end. All season North Carolina refused to mention that this season was about redemption and atoning for last seasons short comings. None of that matters now though. Mission accomplished.
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