Gonzaga’s first chance at a national championship ended in heartbreak as North Carolina claimed its sixth national title with a final score of 71-65. A year in the making, North Carolina got their redemption from 2016’s championship game.
UNC won their sixth championship in program history.
The Zags had a strong start, maintaining a lead after the first five minutes that would carry all the way to the end of the first half. They found themselves up 35-32 at halftime. A foul-filled second half with numerous missed shots would result in their downfall.
While the Tar Heels struggled in the first half, shooting only 9-of-26, halftime offered a chance to rejuvenate and they came out strong. Two turnovers and five missed shots from Gonzaga allowed North Carolina to reclaim the lead. An 8-0 run early in the second half sparked their desire to win and redeem themselves from their loss to Villanova the previous year.
The flow of the second half was constantly interrupted as both teams found themselves in the bonus six minutes in. 27 fouls were called in the second half, resulting in an overwhelming 52 free throws. This foul trouble meant a drought for the Zag’s offense, they went almost eight minutes without a single field goal. Collins fouled out with 5:03 left to play, and many of Gonzaga’s other major players were sitting with four fouls.
Nigel William-Goss scored eight straight points for Gonzaga, helping them take a two-point lead with only 1:50 left in the game. This was followed by Williams-Goss subsequently rolling his ankle, a decisive injury in the last few minutes of the game.
Isaiah Hicks hit a crucial layup to give North Carolina a three-point lead with only 22 seconds left. Controversy arose over this play. Possession was given to the Tar Heels after a pile- up underneath the basket, although Kennedy Meek’s right hand appeared to be out of bounds while struggling for the ball. Any chance Gonzaga had to come back was lost as Meeks blocked Williams-Goss’ shot. The ball was thrown down the court to Justin Jackson who slammed it in and all but secured title number six.
Gonzaga’s strong defense this season did not let up for the final game. North Carolina made only 4 of 27 from three-point range. Their percentage from the field was a low 35. However, Gonzaga’s offense was not up to these same high standards. A few key drives and offensive bursts would keep them in the game, but most of these occurred in the first half.
While the officials and their whistles seemed to play a predominant part in the game, North Carolina nonetheless fought hard to earn their sixth title. Coach Roy Williams got his third championship out of this, and the Tar Heels received the victory that had barely slipped out of their hands last year.
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