Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Blue Skies! North Carolina Earns Redemption, 6th National Championship

College Hoops Player of the Day for Monday, April 3, 2017

North Carolina 71 Gonzaga 66

It wasn't pretty, but after 40 minutes of helter-skelter basketball, 44 fouls, 52 free throws, and 76 missed shots from the field, the North Carolina Tar Heels did what they came to do: redeem themselves for last year's last-second loss in the championship game to Villanova.

For some time during what had to be one of the more intense physical and defensive struggles of Final Four fare ever, there was doubt that North Carolina would win their sixth national championship. Gonzaga was tough, determined, and equally aware of the task at hand. In the end the game was decided by the play of a couple of upperclassmen - senior forward Isaiah Hicks and junior guard Joel Berry II - turning adversity into opportunity late in the second half that led the Tar Heels to basketball's promised land with a 71-65 triumph and a National Championship trophy.

In the first half, while North Carolina was shooting at a sub-30% rate, Gonzaga forged as much as a seven-point lead, which turned out to be the largest of the contest. When the teams broke for halftime, the Bulldogs led, 35-32, an advantage that was quickly erased as the Tar Heels went on an 8-0 tear to open the second half. In addition to two Justin Jackson free throws, Berry made a steal on the opening inbound play, tossed in a breakout layup, fed Kennedy Meeks for another score and hit a short jumper with just 2:20 gone in the period.

As had been the case throughout the tournament for the Tar Heels, they could not keep their advantage for long. Over the next minute and nine seconds, the Bulldogs regained the lead, 41-40 on a Zach Collins jumper and subsequent free throw and a three-pointer from Jordan Mathews.

From there until the final two minutes of the game, neither team could consider themselves safe, as the lead changed hands and the scored tied multiple times.

With 1:55 remaining, Gonzaga's Nigel Williams-Goss put the Zags up 65-63, but Jackson tied the game and put the Tar Hells ahead 66-65 with a layup plus one on a foul. Following a Gonzaga timeout, Hicks came up big, hitting a short runner in the lane for a 68-65 edge with 27 seconds left. On Gonzaga's ensuing possession, Kennedy Meeks blocked a shot from Williams Goss and Berry recovered the ball, feeding a streaking Justin Jackson for an emphatic slam dunk which sealed the deal. Berry, who had 21 points and was named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player, capped off his 22-point night with a final free throw.

Berry made four three-pointers, had three rebounds, a steal, and six assists.

The victory pushed the North Carolina basketball program into even more elite status. It's six national championships are the third most by any school, behind UCLA's 11 and 8 by Kentucky. The Tar Heels broke a tie with Duke and Indiana, both claiming five national titles.

Carolina head coach Roy Williams upped his status as well, winning his third national championship, all with the Tar Heels. Adding to his wins in 2005 and 2009, Williams joins Jim Calhoun (Connecticut) and Bobby Knight (Indiana). Ahead of them are Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and Kansas' Adolph Rupp with four. UCLA's legendary "Wizard of Westwood," John Wooden, led the Bruins to 10 national titles over a 12-year span.

Thus, the 2016-17 men's college basketball season comes to an abrupt close. College Basketball Daily will return again this fall to bring readers more coverage of the great sport and of course, the player of the day throughout the 2017-18 season.

Until then, keep your laces loose and practice your free throws,

Fearless Rick,
Publisher

NCAA Tournament Conference Scoreboard
FINAL: Through Monday (4/3) Games
Conference (# of teams) Record Winners (# of Wins)
ACC (9) 11-8 Notre Dame (1), Florida St. (1), Virginia (1), Louisville (1), Duke (1), North Carolina (6)
Big East (7) 6-7 Villanova (1), Butler (2), Xavier (3)
Big Ten (7) 8-7 Purdue (2), Wisconsin (2), Northwestern (1), Michigan (2), Michigan State (1)
Big 12 (6) 9-6 Kansas State (1), West Virginia (2), Iowa St. (1), Kansas (3), Baylor (2)
SEC (5) 11-5* Florida (3), Arkansas (1), Kentucky (3), South Carolina (4)
PAC 12 (4) 10-4 USC (2), Arizona (2), Oregon (4), UCLA (2)
Atlantic 10 (3) 1-3 Rhode Island (1)
American (2) 1-2 Cincinnati (1)
West Coast (2) 6-2 Gonzaga (5), St. Mary's (1)
All Others (23) (4-23) Mt. St. Mary's (1), UC Davis (1), Middle Tennessee (1), Wichita State (1)

*One SEC loss and one SEC win occurred in the East Regional Final, South Carolina 77, Florida 70

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