After 40 tense, often ugly minutes of basketball, North Carolina defeated Gonzaga, 71-65, to win another national championship, their first since 2009. The game featured 44 fouls, a combined field goal percentage of 34.8, and a series of inexplicable late referee interventions. At one point, Gonzaga went over eight minutes between made field goals, yet UNC was unable to put the game to bed. They became the fourth program ever to win a national championship a year after losing in the national championship game.
North Carolina trailed early, as Nigel Williams-Goss, Josh Perkins, and Gonzaga’s able-bodied defense kept the Heels from penetrating into the paint. They had a few windows to stretch little leads of seven or eight into double-digit margins, yet foul trouble and a puzzling inability to finish kept UNC in the game. Big Polish center Przemek Karnowski is normally one of Gonzaga’s steadiest performers and it took him 25 minutes to score his first points. He ended the game with a single made field goal.
Unlike most other college basketball teams, UNC is capable of sending a ceaseless stream of big dudes at opponents. Kennedy Meeks is their burly talisman, and Isaiah Hicks, Tony Bradley, and Luke Maye are all mobile and effective in their own right. UNC was at their worst when Gonzaga was outrebounding them, but their bigs reasserted themselves in the second half to even the margin up.
Joel Berry II was playing on two sprained ankles, yet he scored a game-high 22 and hit all four of UNC’s threes (everyone else went 0-for-25). Berry II was named the most outstanding player of the Final Four. Justin Jackson missed nine threes of his own, but he scored 16 and occasionally bothered Williams-Goss. Crucially, UNC finished with only four turnovers thanks to some steady ballhandling.
Gonzaga took a 65-64 lead with 1:55 left, but the Tar Heels closed the game on a 7-0 run. Jackson hit an and-1, then Hicks nailed the basket of the game to put North Carolina up three with 27 seconds left. Look at the in-air adjustment to get around defensive pressure.
Gonzaga then melted down and turned it over twice, ending a close game in tragic fashion. Too bad for sunburnt Adam Morrison.