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NCAA Championship: Tar Heels win it all

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The North Carolina Tar Heels overcame some early struggles to beat the Gonzaga Bulldogs 71-65 in the NCAA national championship game at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Just a year earlier, North Carolina lost on a buzzer-beater to lose in the championship to Villanova. This year, the team wouldn’t let that happen again.

This championship win puts North Carolina third all-time in national title wins right behind UCLA and Kentucky. It’s North Carolina’s sixth national title and third with head coach Roy Williams.

North Carolina was given the No. 1 seed in the south region and had to go through Texas Southern, Arkansas, Butler, Kentucky, and Oregon before getting the chance to play in the championship.

Going into the game, it was unclear whether or not North Carolina’s Joel Berry II would play because of an injured ankle, which limited his playing time in the previous games. An ankle injury wouldn’t hold him back though, and Berry went out and scored a game high 22 points on seven of 19 field goals. Because of his efforts, his was named the game’s most valuable player.

Early on in the contest, Gonzaga started out hot and guard Josh Perkins led all scorers with 13 points to go along with three 3-pointers going into halftime. The Zags were hitting the glass hard and held an advantage on rebounds. As the nation’s No.1 ranked team in adjusted defensive efficiency, they held the Tar Heels to only 32 points at the half and made their bigs struggle to get much going.

Heading into the second half, North Carolina started to come back and went on an 8-0 run to put them on top. When it seemed like North Carolina might start to run away with the game, Gonzaga responded with an 8-0 run of their own.

“It was an exciting start to the second half,” junior Dom Young stated. “Both teams were exchanging baskets and it really has that championship feel.”

Midway through the second, the game got sloppy and teams continued to go back and forth and trade points. Once again, the officiating played a huge role in the game, something that has gone on throughout the entirety of the tournament.

With about 10 minutes left in the game, Gonzaga forward and NBA draft prospect Zach Collins was called for his fifth foul, and fouled out. Also, big man Przemek Karnowski picked up his fourth foul and a tech and had to sit out late down the stretch. For Gonzaga, this was a huge blow.

The refs continued to miss several calls in the second half. By the end of the game, the refs had made 44 foul calls.

“I had to turn my TV off,” junior Georg Montag stated. “The game was getting annoying. It felt slow and the refs took the game out of the players’ hands. No team was able to get into the rhythm of the game and I wish they could’ve just played on half the time.”

Late in the game, with UNC up 1, the ball appeared to go off North Carolina big man Kennedy Meeks. The ref made the wrong call though, and UNC went down to score. With 22 seconds left, Gonzaga guard Nigel Williams-Goss drove to the basket and North Carolina clutched up. Kennedy Meeks swatted the basket and threw an outlet to ACC player of the year Justin Jackson for a dunk. This about sealed the win.

The key to the game for North Carolina was keeping Karnowski away from the basket. The center from Poland shot 1 of 8 from the floor and scored only 9 points, one of his lowest of the season. Another important factor for the Tar Heels was the fact that Isaiah Hicks came alive. After shooting 1 of 12 in the Final Four against Oregon, Hicks hit the game’s most important basket and finished with 13 points. North Carolina’s defense clamped down on Gonzaga’s fast paced offense and made them commit 14 turnovers.

For both teams, it was a poor shooting night. No team shot over 36 percent from the field. Even the eventual national champions ended up overcoming a 14 percent three-point percentage to win it all.

“For the final two teams, you’d expect them to shoot better,” said junior Ryan Maloney. “I guess it happens once in awhile though. It was probably the pressure.”

Gonzaga, the small Jesuit school out of Spokane, Washington, with only 7,421 students, had its dreams crushed after only a 2-loss season. The Bulldogs were the number 1 seed in the west region and defeated South Dakota State, Northwestern, West Virginia, Xavier, and South Carolina before ultimately losing in the finals. It was the first time the school ever managed to get into the Final Four. They finished with a 37-2 record and held the No.1 ranking in the country for a couple of weeks.

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NCAA Championship: Tar Heels win it all